The purposes of clerk magistrate hearings in Massachusetts are to: a) Determine whether the accused is responsible for a civil infraction; Or b) To find if probable cause is established against the accused for issuance of a criminal misdemeanor complaint.
In addition, magistrates also act as mediators in small claims actions and often preside over preliminary probation revocation hearings.
What Are ‘Show Cause’ Hearings?
In Massachusetts, clerk magistrate hearings are also called “show cause hearings” when the allegations refer to possible misdemeanor complaints and charges.
You are entitled to a show cause hearing if you are accused of a crime but are not arrested and the criminal complaints are for misdemeanor offenses.
If you are cited for an infraction such as a speeding violation, you may also appear before the clerk magistrate. In some instances, you may only get a magistrate’s hearing IF you request it by checking the box on the back of your citation and mailing it into the clerk’s office within 4 days.
In other cases, the clerk will schedule a Magistrate’s Hearing with or without you, such as when the court wants to ensure there is probable cause and the complaint is worthy of being put onto the court’s docket.
Key Aspects of a Magistrate Show Cause Hearing
In any magistrate show cause hearing, it’s important to understand that the formal rules of evidence do not apply. Instead, a magistrate will consider either:
- a) A “preponderance of the evidence” in the case of a civil infraction such as a minor moving violation; or
- b) Evidence sufficient to reach probable cause, in the case of possible misdemeanor charges.
Witness statements, testimony and photographs can all be relied upon by the magistrate to decide whether an offense has occurred for which the accused should be formally charged.
- If the magistrate determines there is probable cause, s/he will grant the request for a formal complaint and you will be given an arraignment date for your case to move forward.
- If the magistrate determines that the state does not meet the threshold for probable cause, then s/he will find against the state and order all pending charges be dropped.
- The accused has the chance to argue against the state’s presentation of probable cause and even to offer counter evidence –if the clerk magistrate allows.
If the magistrate decides the prosecution hasn’t met the low bar for probable cause and orders the state to dismiss all pending complaints, it will be as if no crime was ever committed. You will have no record of anything on your CORI.
While dismissals are the exception rather than the rule, they can be obtained, especially if your defense attorney is well-versed in show cause strategies.
There are many factors that can affect the odds of getting a show cause dismissal, and magistrates will generally grant the complaint when the charges are more serious.
A criminal defense attorney with experience in the district court system will have the best chance of winning a dismissal of the criminal complaint in your show cause hearing.
Information About a Magistrate’s Hearing for a Speeding Ticket (speeding tickets, civil magistrate hearing)
Continuance Without Finding Explained (CWOF disposition, continuance without finding)