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Clerk Magistrate Hearing FAQs

There are a number of ways in which the process of being charged with a crime can begin. In Massachusetts one such way is through a clerk magistrate hearing. This may be your first opportunity to favorably resolve a potential criminal charge and it is essential to consult with an attorney about representation at such a hearing. If you receive a summons to appear at a clerk magistrate hearing, you will likely have many questions about this and an experienced attorney can help guide you through the process. Each situation is different, and you should consult an attorney for specific guidance. However, these are some answers to some common questions that may arise.

First of all, what is a clerk magistrate hearing?

A clerk magistrate hearing is also sometimes referred to as a show cause hearing. This is one of several ways that the process of a criminal court case can begin. A clerk magistrate hearing is the process by which you are notified that either the police or a civilian is seeking a criminal complaint against you. The complaint will be brought before a clerk magistrate and the magistrate will decide whether or not there is probable cause to issue the charges against you.


How does a case end up at a clerk magistrate hearing?

Clerk magistrates hearing are generally available for misdemeanor offenses for which you have not been arrested. Most commonly the police will file a complaint and request a clerk magistrate hearing when they believe a crime has been committed but they themselves did not actually witness this crime and no arrest occurred. Most often the police, but sometimes a civilian, may report to the Clerks Office at the District Court and file an application for a complaint. This application will assert that you have committed certain crimes. Once filed, a clerk magistrate hearing will be scheduled and you will receive notice of the hearing via regular mail.


Why did I not receive a clerk magistrate hearing in my case?

There are a variety of reasons why a case may proceed without first going through a clerk magistrate hearing. For instance, if you are arrested or if a warrant has issued for your arrest you will not receive a clerks hearing. If you are charged with a felony offense it is unlikely that you will receive a clerks hearing. Additionally, if the person applying for the complaint requests that the case proceed without a clerks hearing and the clerk finds that there is an imminent threat of bodily injury, commission of a crime or flight from the Commonwealth, then a complaint may issue without a clerks hearing.


Is there a judge at the clerk magistrate hearing?

There is no judge present at a clerk magistrate hearing; the hearing is conducted by a district court clerk magistrate. These hearings are generally less formal then a hearing before a judge in district court, however these are still serious proceedings and represent your first opportunity to try to favorably resolve the matter before any formal charges issue against you. As such, it is essential to contact an experienced attorney to represent you at these hearings.


Who will be present at the hearing?

The hearing is conducted by the clerk magistrate; the magistrate will be present along with the police officer or civilian complainant who is seeking the complaint. You should always appear at the clerk magistrate hearing represented by counsel. Additionally, any witnesses that you would like the magistrate to hear from may be present at the hearing as well.


Who has the burden of proof at a clerk magistrate hearing? What is that burden?

The complainant, or the person bringing the charges, has the burden or proof at the clerk magistrate hearing. The complainant, usually the police will present their case first to the clerk, you will then have an opportunity to respond to the allegations. The burden of proof is very low, in fact it is essentially the lowest burden we recognize in criminal law: probable cause. The complainant need only establish probable cause that a crime was committed and you committed that crime. If that burden is met then the magistrate may issue the criminal complaint.


Do I need to present evidence at a clerk magistrate hearing?

You do not need to present evidence at a clerks hearing as the complainant has the burden. However, the clerks hearing is a good opportunity to present any defenses or mitigating circumstances in order to convince the magistrate that a complaint should not issue.


What are the possible outcomes of a clerk magistrate hearing?

There are several things that can happen following a clerk magistrate hearing. First, the clerk could find probable cause and allow the complaint to issue. This means that the case will proceed to arraignment in the District Court. The magistrate may find probable cause but in his/her discretion may be convinced not to issue the complaint but instead to hold the complaint open for a period of time. Finally, the magistrate may find that there is no probable cause to issue the complaint and it will be dismissed.


If I get a summons for a clerk magistrate hearing will that appear on my criminal record?

No. The clerk magistrate hearing is the start of the criminal complaint process and represents the first, and best, opportunity to have the charge dismissed before it appears on your criminal record. If you receive a summons to appear at a clerk magistrate hearing there are not yet any charges on your record and if the clerk agrees to dismiss the application for the complaint after the hearing nothing will ever appear on your criminal record. However, if the complaint issues following the hearing, once the case is arraigned in district court a charge will appear on your record.


Is a clerk magistrate hearing public?

Generally clerk magistrate hearings are not open to the public. Only the parties will be present along with attorneys and any witnesses.


What should I do if I receive a summons to appear at a clerk magistrate hearing?

If you receive a summons for a clerk magistrate hearing you should take this seriously as this is the first step in initiating criminal charges against you. You should contact an attorney immediately for advice and assistance in representing you at this critical hearing.


The Law Offices of Stephen Neyman can Help

The Law Offices of Stephen Neyman has successfully handled countless clerk magistrate hearings. We understand the seriousness of a clerk magistrate hearing and will fight aggressively for you to avoid any sort of criminal charges. Further, regardless of the ultimate outcome of the hearing, we will use the hearing as an opportunity to discover the weaknesses in the prosecution's potential case, so we can zealously attack their case right from the start. Stephen Neyman will fight tirelessly to protect your legal rights and provide you the best chance to avoid criminal prosecution. Call Stephen Neyman today at (617) 263-6800 for a free phone consultation.

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