When a person who has been accused of a crime has not been arrested, charges may be brought against him/her through a written application that is heard at a Clerk-Magistrate’s Hearing (which is also known as a Show Cause Hearing.) At the hearing, the Clerk-Magistrate hears evidence and decides whether a criminal complaint should issue. This is typically done when a person is accused of a misdemeanor that does not involve domestic violence. Because this hearing occurs before a criminal complaint is issued, the show cause hearing gives you the opportunity to prevent criminal charges from being filed against you. It is crucial to take show cause hearings seriously in order to prevent a complaint from issuing. If you are the subject of a show cause hearing the court will send you a notice of the hearing in the mail along with the application for the complaint. At that time it is a good idea to hire an attorney with experience representing people at Clerk-Magistrate’s Hearing in the courts in Lowell, Ayer, Woburn, Waltham, Somerville, Cambridge, and Lawrence to represent you.
What happens during the hearing?
The Clerk-Magistrate of the court (or an Assistant Clerk-Magistrate) presides over the hearing which is held in the clerk’s office or a small meeting room. You have the right to be represented by an attorney during the hearing, the right to tell your side of the story (which your attorney may or may not advise you to do), to bring any evidence that you believe is relevant, and to bring witnesses to testify. The alleged victim also will receive notice of the hearing, and may appear to testify or bring witnesses to testify. If the local police department has requested the complaint be issued, a police officer will appear to testify as to what he or she knows, or to read the police incident report to the magistrate. After hearing the evidence the clerk will determine whether there is “probable cause” to believe that a crime has been committed. “Probable cause” is a very low standard; the person seeking the complaint only has to present “reasonably trustworthy” evidence to convince a reasonable person that you have committed a crime.
There are three possible outcomes of a show cause hearing:
- If the clerk believes that probable cause exists, he or she will issue a complaint charging you with a crime. A criminal case will then be opened, and you will be arraigned in criminal court;
- If the clerk believes that there is no probable cause, he or she will dismiss the application for the complaint. No public records are generated during the show cause hearing, and if the application is dismissed it will be as though it never happened.
- The clerk may decide to “hold” the application which means that he or she will not immediately dismiss it, but will hold it for a certain period of time (often six months or a year) and then dismiss it at that point if there are no further allegations of criminal conduct against you. This is called a “general continuance.”
Do I need a lawyer?
Although they seem informal, show cause hearings are a very important step in criminal proceedings. A show cause hearing is your one chance to get rid of the case against you before you are formally charged with a crime. An experienced lawyer can convince the magistrate that there is not sufficient evidence that makes it more likely than not that you have committed a crime. You need a criminal defense lawyer who understands the elements of the crimes at issue and how the evidence relates to those crimes. A lawyer can also advise you as to the benefits or drawbacks of testifying on your own behalf at the hearing.
- Clerk-Magistrate in Woburn District Court allowed a general continuance for a client accused of Minor in Possession of Alcohol. Client was required to take an alcohol education course in lieu of being charged.
- Clerk-Magistrate in Lowell District Court found no probable cause to issue a complaint against my client who had been wrongfully accused of shoplifting.
- Clerk-Magistrate in Waltham District Court allowed for a general continuance for a client accused of leaving the scene of property damage. Upon paying a fine, completing 20 hours of community service, and providing documentation that his insurance provider had found him at fault and paid the other driver’s claim, the application for the criminal complaint was dismissed.
If you are a loved one has received notice of a Clerk-Magistrate Hearing, please contact me for a free consultation.