If you or a loved one receive a criminal citation for an alleged misdemeanor that takes place out of the view of a police officer, Massachusetts law provides that the individual suspected has the right to first appear before a clerk magistrate for a “Show Cause” hearing. This “Show Cause” hearing is also referred to as a “Clerk’s Hearing.”
If you receive a criminal citation, you generally only have 4 days to sign the back of the citation and return it to the appropriate criminal clerk’s office to request a Clerk’s Hearing. This hearing occurs before the issuance of any official criminal complaint and prior to the commencement of any criminal proceedings.
At this hearing, the clerk magistrate will hear the evidence alleged and ascertain whether probable cause exists to issue a criminal complaint. Often, a police prosecutor represents the respective police department and they will read into the record the allegations. Witnesses can be present at the hearing and offer testimony.
Defendants are advised that they have the right to counsel, but do not need to be represented for a Clerk’s Hearing. But for multiple reasons, it is very important to consult an experienced criminal defense attorney prior to this hearing. The right to appointed counsel does not apply to a Clerk’s Hearing because it occurs prior to the commencement of criminal proceedings. Regardless, this is a critical stage in the criminal process, and it is very important to be represented by an experienced criminal defense attorney because you have the opportunity to prevent a permanent entry on your criminal record.
Just because you may feel competent and capable of representing yourself well in a Clerk’s Hearing, it can be a very risky choice. Anything you say at this stage of the process will be on the record and can only be used against you moving forward. You may feel particularly “safe” in the instance that you are not guilty of the alleged misdemeanor and just want to “tell the truth” in this hearing, but everything you say, regardless of how well it is worded, can be used against you in future criminal proceedings. You should be represented by counsel to avoid this from happening.
Another reason to hire an attorney is because they can speak on your behalf and communicate with opposing parties in a manner that you cannot. They have extensive experience representing individuals in Clerk’s Hearings and with their representation, you will potentially protect your record and avoid further criminal proceedings, saving time, money, and your record in the long-run.