In Massachusetts, a Clerk-Magistrate’s Hearing, also called a Show-Cause Hearing, is a very important step in the criminal justice process prior to an arraignment. An arraignment is a court proceeding where you’re officially told of the charges against you and a plea is entered. Such a hearing gives you the opportunity to challenge the allegations that have been made against you. Not everyone has the right to a hearing.
Who Qualifies for a Clerk-Magistrate’s Hearing?
- If you are charged with a misdemeanor (a misdemeanor is a criminal charge that may not be punished with state prison time)
- If you were not arrested
- If you request a hearing within four days of being charged with misdemeanor motor vehicle violations
Who Does Not Qualify for a Clerk-Magistrate’s Hearing?
- If you were charged with a felony (a felony is a criminal charge that may be punished with state prison time)
- If you were arrested
- If the Clerk-Magistrate determines that you appear dangerous, likely to injure someone, or likely to commit another crime.
What to Expect at a Clerk-Magistrate’s Hearing
A Clerk-Magistrate’s Hearing is generally not open to the public. It is a fairly informal proceeding that takes place in the Clerk’s office. The Clerk-Magistrate will be present as well as a police prosecutor from the police department that is bringing the charges. This is generally not the officer that was involved in the case. You are free to bring witnesses with you. The police prosecutor explains to the Clerk-Magistrate the alleged facts of the case, usually by simply reading from the police report. You will have a chance to explain your side of the story and present witnesses if you wish. All witnesses are put under oath.
The Clerk-Magistrate is not weighing evidence to determine guilt. He or she is only making a determination whether there is probable cause to issue a Criminal Complaint. The probable cause requirement is met when there is reasonably trustworthy information sufficient to warrant a prudent person in believing that a crime has been committed and that the accused is the perpetrator.
What is the Importance of a Clerk-Magistrate’s Hearing?
A Clerk-Magistrate’s Hearing is a critical stage of the criminal justice system. It can stop a prosecution in its tracks. If no probable cause is found, no Criminal Complaint will issue. That means that you will not be arraigned. If probable cause is found, a Complaint will issue and the next step is the arraignment. At the arraignment, an entry on your criminal record appears. In other words, you now have a criminal record. If a potential employer, landlord, military recruiter, or other agencies, including volunteer positions, run a check, it will show up on your record. You could be denied a job, an apartment, or a military career as a result of this record. You could be prohibited from participating in your children’s sporting events and activities. You could be stopped from going with your children on field trips. It is absolutely critical to keep your criminal record as clean as possible.
Do I Need an Attorney at a Clerk-Magistrate’s Hearing?
Although not required, having a competent attorney at a Clerk-Magistrate’s Hearing is absolutely recommended. As we discussed above, this is a critical stage of your criminal case. The possible consequences are severe, and long lasting. Your life can be forever changed depending on the outcome of this Hearing. Don’t go it