Coronavirus Massachusetts District Court – 2021 Update
Most Clerk Magistrate’s hearings in most courts are done remotely via Zoom, but procedures are still somewhat chaotic.
Arraignments, pretrials, and trials are also sometimes remote and sometimes continued and rescheduled. I’ve been to several different courts recently, and I can’t tell you definitively how things work for any specific case in any particular court. There is no routine, and rules are being enforced differently in different courts.
- Some cases are in person (very few)
- Many cases are heard remotely via Zoom.
- Some cases are just rescheduled and kicked down the road.
Some Courts are set up to use Zoom for remote Clerk Magistrate Hearings as an option. If that is an option, it’s a good one to use.
It will take a while to work out continuances and new court dates. The courts will be mailing out new dates, but obviously, this is a rapidly changing situation.
The court system is likely to be slow and difficult as it opens back up, so it is impossible to predict how efficiently Clerk Magistrate’s Hearings will work right now.
The bottom line is, if you are waiting to hear about a court date for a hearing, it looks like you may have to keep waiting for a while.
If you have a clerk magistrate’s hearing upcoming, and you need legal help, you can text Attorney Matson at (781) 817-6332.
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.
You need to send in this summons form (pictured below) to the court within 4 days. The court will notify you of your hearing date by mail.
I wrote the book on Clerk Magistrate’s hearings. 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.
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.
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 then continue on 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.
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)
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.
If you hire me to represent you at your clerk magistrate hearing, for most minor offenses we have a pretty good chance to win (and probably better than you think!). I have a strong record of success and positive reviews from clients and results at these hearings. I can tell you about hearings I have won that are similar to yours.
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. For a lot of reasons. Not because the fix is in, but because I have the experience to solve the problem of giving the clerk every possible reason to dismiss the case. We do the legwork and cover all the bases.
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 do.
No, you are not entitled to a public defender or court-appointed lawyer 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 and rather unfair, 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.
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.”
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 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.
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.
It depends. I would want to make sure a witness would definitely be helpful. We will discuss that as part of your consultation and case preparation.
No. If the case is dismissed, it’s like it never happened. You were never charged with a crime. Nothing appears on your CORI.
If we lose at a clerk magistrate’s hearing, a criminal complaint will be issued. You will face a formal criminal charge at an arraignment, and be given a chance to plead not guilty. Then we will figure out the next step and best strategy for your legal defense.
There are still many options to work with and try to avoid a criminal conviction, either prior to arraignment or afterward at a pretrial conference.
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.
No, the decision of the Clerk-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.
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.
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.
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.
Most of the time, they are not. Most district courts keep the hearings private. A few courts are exceptions, like the Quincy District Court, which allows public access to hearings.
You may have seen the Boston Globe Spotlight series on Massachusetts’ Secret Courts. A lot of that was alarmist and focused on a small number of abuses, and not fair to the cases and clients that I typically represent.
In almost all cases, these “secret” hearings are a public good to help people avoid criminal charges and records. But a little more transparency might not be a bad thing. I am proud that we have these hearings in Massachusetts, and I have written how it is mostly a very good deal for average people, not a coverup for the elite and powerful.
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 testimony from witnesses.
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.
More on how Massachusetts defines a show cause hearing is here.
No, it happens all the time. Scheduling and managing court dates during the COVID-19 pandemic and shutdown in the past year has been chaotic, to say the least. It is completely normal to have your court date moved and delayed. You just have to be patient. There isn’t much any of us can do about it.
In many cases, yes. The court has to offer you the option, and they have to be set up to have your hearing done remotely over Zoom. Not all district courts do this, so it depends.
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.