Woburn Clerk Magistrate Hearings Attorney Fighting for the Justice That You Deserve
If you find yourself facing criminal charges, you want a clerk magistrate’s hearing if the offense allows for it. In Massachusetts, you are entitled to a clerk magistrate’s hearing whenever the police are trying to charge you with any misdemeanor for which you were not arrested. These are criminal cases where you would receive either:
- A summons from the Court; or
- A traffic citation (i.e., “ticket”) from the police with the box for “Criminal Application” checked
At the discretion of the courts or the police, you may also be given a clerk magistrate’s hearing for certain felony offenses.
The purpose of the hearing is for the clerk magistrate to decide whether the criminal charges will issue. These hearings are also called “show cause” hearings. It’s very important to take this seriously. This is your best opportunity to keep the charges from ever issuing and keep them off your record. If successful, you would never have to see the judge, deal with the DA, or worry about any kind of punishment.
How Do You Get a Clerk Magistrate’s Hearing?
In many cases, how you get a hearing will be out of your hands. The police will complete their reports concerning the incident and fill out the “Application for Complaint” at the Court. If the offense is a misdemeanor and you were not arrested, the Court should send you a notice / summons with the date and time of the clerk magistrate hearing. This can also happen for certain felonies, but it is within the discretion of the clerk and the police whether you will get a clerk magistrate’s hearing for a felony matter.
However, if the offense is a criminal traffic offense, such as DUI, reckless driving, leaving the scene of an accident, etc. and you were not arrested you can request to have a clerk magistrate’s hearing. In such a case, you should have received a traffic ticket (i.e., “Massachusetts Uniform Citation”) from the officer. If you are not sure if it is a criminal offense just look at the ticket. There is a box on the front that will say “CRIMINAL APPLICATION.” If that is checked, there is at least one a criminal offense for which you can seek a clerk magistrate’s hearing.
However, you do need to take some action. On the ticket / citation, there is a section for you to sign to request a hearing. On the newer electronic tickets its right on the front. On the older two-sided tickets that section will be on the back. In either case, you only have four (4) days to sign the ticket and bring it to court to request a hearing. If you do not, then you may not get a clerk magistrate’s hearing for the offenses.
What Happens at The Hearing?
At the hearing, the clerk magistrate is the one making the decisions. The clerk is not a judge, but they work for the court system and have a lot of power. At this hearing the clerk’s job is to decide whether the charges should issue (i.e., go before the judge).
The clerk magistrate’s job is to decide whether the police have probable cause to bring the charges. Probable cause is not a very difficult standard to meet. To establish probable cause an officer from the police department will come to the clerk magistrate’s hearing and read from the police report related to your case. In most courts it is usually not the same officer that you dealt with. There is no requirement that the officer who conducted the investigation and wrote the report be present. This is how the facts are presented to determine whether there is probable cause.
You have the right to be there. You can bring a lawyer, but it’s not required that you have a lawyer, and they will not appoint a lawyer for you. You can testify on your own behalf. You can ask the officer questions. You can also bring other witnesses, photos, videos, or other documents that might be able to shed some light on your side of the story.
The clerk magistrate’s hearing usually doesn’t take very long. About 20-30 minutes is typical. The clerk will listen to everything and then decide. The clerk magistrate will usually do one of three things.
Three Possible Outcomes
- Option One: The clerk magistrate can find that there is enough evidence to establish probable cause and issue the charges. If that happens, you will have to see the judge and go through the normal court process for the charges.
- Option Two: The clerk magistrate can decide that based on the facts presented and/or the law, the evidence presented is not sufficient to establish probable cause. This means the charges won’t issue and there is nothing more you would need to do. The case is over.
- Option Three: The third option is somewhere in between One and Two. The clerk magistrate may find that either there is probable cause or that it’s a very close call to make. However, the clerk can use their discretion and determine that the interests of justice do not require that the charges should issue.
This often happens in cases where the person is a first-time offender (often a younger person), the crime is minor, and no one was seriously injured. The clerk magistrate in these cases often considers the person’s character and just how a criminal charge may affect their life going forward.
The clerk might say, “Well, you know what? There could be probable cause here, but I’m considering that this person has no prior record and generally has been a good person.” This is where a good lawyer can help you immensely. The lawyer can argue on your behalf about your character; the positive things you have done in your life; how a criminal charge may affect you in the future; that it was a mistake and not malicious; and that you have learned an important lesson. In the interest of justice, the lawyer asks the clerk magistrate to use their discretion and not issue the charges.
Many times, the clerk magistrate will use that discretion and create a hybrid outcome. The clerk might say, “I’m not going to issue the charges.” Or they could ask you to do something. They might ask you to do something like community service, attend therapy or take some type of a class. This happens a lot with minor driving offenses. Maybe the clerk magistrate will have you do what they call a national driver safety program.
Many times, the clerk magistrate will decide to keep the matter open for a period, such as 6 months. If you stay out of trouble and otherwise do what is asked of you, then the charges will never issue. But if you don’t stay out of trouble or do what was asked of you, then they can issue the charges.
The clerks have a lot of discretion as to what they can do at these hearings. It’s in your best interest to keep these charges from ever issuing. It’s very important to take this seriously and to make sure you put your best foot forward at a clerk magistrate’s hearing. This is your best opportunity to stop the criminal charges that the police are trying to bring against you.