If you’ve received a criminal citation, either in the mail or in person from a police officer, you will be assigned a future court date for a Clerk Magistrate’s Hearing (also called a “show cause hearing”) at a Massachusetts District Court.Criminal Charge in Massachusetts? Call Attorney Russell Matson at (781) 817-6332.
You need to send in this summons form (pictured below) to the court within 4 days, and the court will inform you of your hearing date.
I wrote the book on Clerk Magistrate’s hearings, and I will work to win the hearing and prevent any criminal charge from going forward. I will help you understand the charges against you and explain exactly what I can do to (ideally) make the entire case go away at the hearing.
Call or text me today and I will walk you through the process and exactly how I can help you. (781) 817-6332.
What is a Clerk Magistrate’s Hearing?
It is a preliminary hearing where the Clerk Magistrate decides if a criminal charge should be issued and if you will be formally charged with a crime.
At the hearing, a police prosecutor will try to convince the Magistrate that there is sufficient probable cause that a crime was committed, and you should be charged.
It’s important to keep in mind that you have not been formally charged with a crime until after a hearing if the Clerk finds probable cause to do so.
What Happens at a Clerk Magistrate’s Hearing?
When your name is called at the hearing date, you and your attorney will appear before the court. The prosecutor will read the charges and evidence against you, and ask the court to issue a criminal complaint.
As your attorney, I will have an opportunity to dispute the allegations and argue the facts don’t show sufficient cause that a crime was committed, or that you, the defendant, committed it. I can also make additional arguments and appeal to the clerk’s wide discretion to dispose of the case without further involving the court’s time.
At the end of the hearing, the Clerk will determine whether or not to issue an official criminal complaint in the case.
If the clerk finds sufficient cause, and a criminal complaint is issued, it is not the end of the process. You will be giving a formal date for arraignment on the charge. At an arraignment, you will be giving a formal opportunity to plead not guilty.
The case will later continue with a pretrial hearing date, where additional evidence can be heard, and we can file additional motions to dismiss the case, work out a deal, or plan to fight the case at a trial.
Can I Win At a Clerk Magistrate’s Hearing?
Yes, absolutely, you can. I wrote an entire book on it.
Even when you know you are guilty, I can still very often win the hearing and help you avoid any criminal charge on your record.
How likely we are to win depends on a lot of factors, the facts of your case, and how serious the charge is. I have won many types cases at these hearings, with a wide variety of criminal charges. That is the best possible result for you.
I have won Clerk’s Hearings on charges ranging from:
- Leaving the Scene of an Accident
- Negligent Operation of a Motor Vehicle
- Shoplifting / (Larceny)
- Drug Possession
- Malicious Destruction
- Minor in Possession of Alcohol
- and many more…
For some offenses like OUI, it can be more difficult to win outright at the hearing. Clerk’s are rarely willing to deny the state an opportunity to present their evidence in drunk driving cases. (Of course, it may be even more important to have an experienced OUI defense lawyer like myself at a clerk’s hearing, even if we don’t expect to win.)
But for criminal offenses that maybe aren’t as serious, such as a leaving the scene of an accident with property damage, my record of winning is very good.
If some of the key evidence is lacking or is in dispute, or there are no witnesses, then it is very possible to win at the Clerk’s hearing. The case can completely go away that day, which is a great outcome.
What Are the Chances of Having the Complaint Dismissed at the Clerk Magistrate’s hearing if I hire an Attorney?
Generally pretty good (and probably better than you think!) in the case of most relatively minor charges. We have a strong record of success and positive reviews from clients and results at these hearings.
But of course, it depends. We can never guarantee a win, that would be unethical and flat out wrong. But we will go over the facts and let you know how often we usually win cases exactly like yours.
Your chances are much, much better if you hire an experienced firm like us to handle it.
Do I Need A Lawyer at My Hearing?
If you hope to win the hearing, it is much more likely to go in your favor if you have a fully prepared legal strategy, and an attorney experienced in navigating these hearings as your defense representation. But technically, you aren’t required to have an attorney present at your clerk’s hearing by law. However, you risk missing your best opportunity to make the charge go away.
If you win, your case gets completely tossed out, like it never happened. That is the best kind of win. It essentially means that there was never a criminal charge against you. If we as your lawyers can help you get that result, that’s the absolute best you can do.
However, even if the case proceeds and the clerk magistrate determines that there is enough evidence to allow the case to go forward, having a lawyer already on the case can be a big plus in ultimately winning the case.
We usually win most cases of minor charges like leaving the scene of an accident, negligent operating, shoplifting, and minor in possession. But not always. It is not uncommon for the clerk to decide there is enough evidence to issue a formal criminal complaint. It is just not a very high standard of proof required and is often the path of least resistance. But having a lawyer already on the case means that your attorney knows what evidence they have and can work to argue against it on a factual basis, or file a motion to have it disallowed, and still get your charges dismissed.
Can I get a public defender for a Clerk Magistrate’s Hearing?
No, you are not entitled to a public defender until you are formally charged with a crime. If the Clerk issues the formal criminal charge, you could be eligible at an arraignment.
This is unfortunate since this hearing is very often the best chance to proactively avoid a complicated and expensive legal trial, and having a lawyer at the hearing is a huge advantage, for you, the accused. The prosector is almost always literally a cop from the same department as the officer who wrote you the citation. They are not on your side, and you want someone who is fighting for you and knows what it takes to win.
What Does an Attorney do at a Magistrate’s Hearing that I Can’t Do Myself?
We will go over our strategy when we talk to you because it depends on the case specifics and the type of charge. We will gather from you whatever documents and evidence we think will be helpful in getting the best result. It comes down to preparation and anticipation of the Clerk’s concerns about you and the case.
Mostly, we will make sure the case is completely prepared, and we can answer any questions that the Magistrate might have. We want to preemptively eliminate any possible reason he might not want to dismiss the case, and make it EASY to conclude that there is no need for any charge to go forward.
Also, an attorney can change strategies on the fly in the middle of the if a certain appeal or argument might not be working, and the clerk isn’t buying it.
We are there to explore every conceivable angle, appeal, and opportunity to get the Clerk to say the magic word, “Dismissed.”
Will I have to testify at the hearing?
Maybe. In many cases, you won’t have to testify, but sometimes it is helpful. The magistrate may ask you a few basic questions, but you aren’t going to be vigorously cross-examined. If there are specific questions that need to come out, I will ask you them or allow you to be asked and answer them.
The rules of evidence are very loose at a clerk’s hearing, but I can guide you through it easily if you pay attention to my cues.
But most of the time, the best strategy is for you as the defendant to say as little as possible and let me handle the whole thing.
How Should I prepare for my hearing date?
Dress appropriately for court – business casual at least. Remember to be calm and courteous at all times. Even if the magistrate or police prosecutor says something unfair, or is a lie, try not to react, and let the attorney handle it. It is never helpful to get defensive in court.
Should I bring a witness to the hearing?
It depends, we will discuss that as part of your consultation and case preparation.
If the case is dismissed at the Magistrate’s Hearing does it still go on my CORI?
No. If the case is dismissed, it’s like it never happened. You were never charged with a crime. Nothing appears on your CORI.
What Happens if we Lose the Hearing?
A criminal charge will move forward, and you will be given an arraignment date. We will go in front of a judge, and a formal criminal procedure will begin. You will plead not guilty, and we will figure out the next step and best strategy.
We’ve still got a lot of options defense options to work out, even prior to arraignment, or at a pretrial conference.
Can A Clerk Magistrate send me to jail?
No. The worst case is that they find cause to charge you with a crime and issue a criminal complaint. Then you will be given a court date to be arraigned and formally charged.
Can I Appeal if I Lose?
No, the decision of the Magistrate is final. The criminal complaint will issue, but there are still many options available to us to fight the case and potentially avoid a criminal charge and conviction.
What does it Cost to Hire an Attorney for a Clerk’s Hearing?
Each case is different, and we will discuss with you exactly what it will cost, and what is covered in that fee. But it is always a flat fee, fully disclosed and complete, up front, before you decide to hire us.
Come on, give me an attorney fee cost in actual dollars!
Ok. Generally, the lowest fee we charge for the simplest case with the easiest scheduling for representation by one of our associate attorneys is $1750. We can sometimes work out payment plans.
For more serious or complex cases, it will cost more. If you want to hire Attorney Matson personally, it may cost more since his time is at a premium.
We always charge flat fees, so there are never surprises, extra billings, or overcharges. The flat fee covers staff work, research, obtaining documents, filings, witness interviews, court scheduling, and anything else.
That is for the hearing only. While we win these cases most of the time, some cases are tougher than others, and sometimes the clerk doesn’t cooperate or things don’t go our way. But if we lose, there will be additional costs for representation at an arraignment, pretrial, or trial.
Is a Clerk’s Hearing only For Misdemeanor Offenses?
Typically, yes, but I have had felony charges occasionally go before a clerk magistrate, such as felony malicious damage to a motor vehicle.
And some misdemeanor offenses that go before a clerk magistrate are quite serious, such as leaving the scene of serious bodily injury, or misdemeanor motor vehicle homicide.
What is the standard for show cause?
The standard to be met to issue a complaint is “probable cause to believe that you committed a crime”.
This is not a very high standard. The police prosecutor will present the evidence that you committed a crime, which is often just witness testimony.
If the clerk wants to issue the complaint, he can almost always find enough probable cause to do so since the standard for probable cause is, in fact, an easy bar to reach. However, the best Clerks, IMO, look beyond basic probable cause, into whether this case is actually worth the court’s time.
I’ve said before, Clerk Magistrates have enormous discretion to not go forward, even if there is strong evidence that you did commit a crime.
That’s where I come in, and try to find an alternative reason for the clerk not to issue the complaint. And very often, they will go along with it and we will win.
If you have been called to appear at a Clerk Magistrate’s hearing in any Massachusetts District Court on any criminal charge, please call me today. I can absolutely help you through this, and give you the information you need and answer your questions right now.
Call Now for a Free Criminal Consultation.