A clerk magistrate hearing, otherwise known as a “show cause” hearing, is something that you may be entitled to prior to the official issuance of criminal charges. If you have been charged with a criminal offense but have not been arrested, the police may either fill out an application for criminal complaint to seek a clerk’s hearing or mail you a citation. If you receive a citation, then you need to return it to the courthouse within a very short time frame to request a clerk magistrate hearing. Clerk’s hearings are where you have the opportunity to argue that a criminal complaint should not issue. If successful, then the charge(s) that you are contesting will never proceed to an arraignment and thus never appear on your record. Clerk magistrate hearings in Massachusetts are usually reserved for more minor offenses and misdemeanors that did not occur in the presence of a police officer.
What Happens at a Clerk’s Hearing?
Clerk magistrate hearings are less formal than a normal courtroom case. They are presided over by a clerk magistrate rather than by a judge. They are private proceedings and often take place in an office or a smaller courtroom at the courthouse. They are generally recorded (but not always). The Commonwealth is usually represented by a police prosecutor. In some rare cases, such as a motor vehicle homicide clerk magistrate hearing, an Assistant District Attorney will present the case for the Commonwealth. You are entitled to bring witnesses that would provide evidence favorable to your case, which is something that you will discuss with your attorney beforehand. Unlike in a normal criminal case, the rules of evidence do not apply, so hearsay is allowed. In general, there are three possible outcomes at a clerk’s hearing:
The clerk finds there to be probable cause for one or more criminal charges and issues the criminal complaint. You will receive an arraignment date to return to court.
The clerk finds no probable cause. The case will be closed without the issuance of a criminal complaint and remain private and inaccessible to the general public.
The clerk finds there to be probable cause but continues the matter for a period of time and so long as you comply with any conditions that are set and do not pick up any new criminal offenses in the interim, the matter will be closed on your return date. With this third option, the clerk magistrate is essentially entering a continuation without a finding (CWOF) and keeping the matter open in the clerk’s office until the provided end date.
Attorney Thaler routinely represents clients at clerk magistrate hearings throughout Massachusetts, including in the Boston and Dedham areas. Clerk’s hearings should always be sought if possible, for it gives you the opportunity to avoid criminal charges or mitigate what charges proceed to an arraignment before a judge. This helps both preserve your record and avoid the consequences of an arraignment, such as bail and conditions of release. Oftentimes, the Commonwealth is represented at a clerk’s hearing by a police prosecutor for the department that charged you rather than the actual police officer involved in your case. Even though they might not have firsthand knowledge of your case, you can still ask them questions and seek favorable information that will benefit your case. Remember, anything you say at a clerk’s hearing can be used against you in a possible later criminal prosecution, so it is especially important to have a lawyer speak on your behalf such that you do not waive your Fifth Amendment right not to testify and possibly provide evidence against yourself. Attorney Thaler is very experienced in cross examining police officers and will ensure that both your case and your personal situation are presented in the best light possible to achieve the best result.
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