A news story reported by WCVB Channel 5 suggests that a finding of no criminal charge at a clerk Magistrate’s hearing in Highham is suspicious, and suggested a special deal. There is store video of a husband and wife apparently walking out of the Kohl’s in Hingham which a cart full of clothing that they didn’t pay for.
The kicker is that the defendant is Edward Savage, formerly the police chief in Hanson and his wife Christine.
And now, after apparently not meeting the terms of the hearing deal agreed to last July, to write a simple apology letter, the pair is to be arraigned and charged with the crime on April 2nd.
Did a former police chief get a criminal charge against swept under the rug the first time because of who he was? The details are interesting, but the conclusion is: Probably not.
How do Clerk Magistrate’s hearings work?
A Clerk Magistrate’s hearing is a pre-arrest court hearing to determine whether or not a person should be formally charged with a crime. A police officer always issues a criminal citation in cases of misdemeanor offense where the officer was not a witness to the alleged incident. These are common in cases of leaving the scene of an accident, reckless driving (negligent operation), and shoplifting.
At the hearing, the Clerk-Magistrate hears the evidence presented by a police prosecutor, and determines whether there is probable cause to issue a formal complaint, and charge the defendant with a crime. If the charge issues, the defendant will be formally arraigned as if they had been arrested.
However, Clerk Magistrate’s have very wide discretion to not issue a criminal complaint, even when probable cause clearly exists. They can do so for a variety of reasons: such as if there was no harm and any victim received remuneration, or just to cut the person a break, who made a terrible mistake and is unlikely to have any future problems.
So what happened in this case? Did Edward Savage get a special deal because he was a former police chief?
Some people probably think so, since it is obvious that there was plenty of probable cause to charge them with a crime. He was a former police chief, and his lawyer, Daniel Webster, was a former State Representative. So was the fix in? Doubtful.
It is fairly common for charges not to issue in shoplifting cases. His lawyer clearly did a good job, and the Clerk-Magistrate noted that specifically. But our office also has a thus far perfect record at avoiding criminal charges for our clients at shoplifting hearings.
A former police chief caught on camera, allegedly shoplifting. But when the case went to court, a clerk magistrate agreed to dismiss it. Special treatment? At 6. https://t.co/CTRtQEOQF4 #WCVB pic.twitter.com/pctR2Ho64K
— Mike Beaudet (@Channel_Mike) March 15, 2018
Btu the moral of this particular story is take your second chance seriously. Comply with the court. Write your apology letters.
Is such wide discretion for leniency in these cases fair?
Yes, it makes sense for lots of reasons. Minor charges clog up the courts, and magistrate hearings are relatively efficient and lean on state resources.
And a criminal charges, even just an arrest, or a CWOF can screw people up with background check issues.
Everyone deserves a second chance. People do dumb and impulsive things and make mistakes when under stress.
Should Clerk Magistrate’s hearings be public?
Transparency is generally best, so there is a case to be made for opening up the hearings in all courts. Quincy district court has Clerk’s hearings in open court, but few others do.
Secrecy shouldn’t be used as a weapon and the fact that many people get a second chance, even though they might be technically guilty, shouldn’t be a problem, it should be celebrated. The Clerk Magistrate’s system is a sensible moderating process towards moving us away from a carceral state.