What is the purpose of the clerk magistrate or show cause hearing and what is a grand jury indictment?
In Massachusetts District Court cases can begin by either an arrest and
application by the police for a criminal charge to be issued or an application for
complaint requesting a clerk magistrates hearing also known as a show cause
hearing. When the police are witnesses to an event or the charge is a felony they
have the right to apply directly for the charge to be issued and an accused would
be brought to court in custody or sent a summons for an arraignment. An arraignment is the formal reading the of charges in open court where a plea of not guilty is entered and the court inquires of the accused as to whether he has an attorney or is seeking a court-appointed attorney because they cannot afford a private attorney. A court appointed
attorney is only provided to the indigent or those who make less than a certain
amount every year. The amount of salary required to not qualify for a court
appointed attorney is very low, if you work at all it is difficult to receive a
The other way the case can begin in District Court other then by arrest and
arraignment is by application for criminal complaint. A person is entitled to
have a criminal clerk magistrates hearing related to misdemeanors in which the
police are not a witness. The clerk magistrate or show cause hearing is an
informal hearing in front of the clerk magistrate in which a police officer
usually reads from a police report as to the facts which make up the charge
against the accused. At times witnesses are brought in by the police to testify
especially when it is one witness's word versus the accused which makes up the
case. The standard of proof for issuing the charge is one of probable cause to
believe that the accused was involved in the crime. The clerk magistrate's
hearing is not a trial, rules of evidence are relaxed and a clerk is the one who
decides whether probable cause exists to issue a charge. An accused can testify
and also bring in witnesses or evidence to help explain his side. One must be very careful because the accused will be placed under oath anything a person says at the hearing can be used against him on a later date if the charges issue.
The clerk magistrate can decide not to issue the charge and take the matter
under advisement where it will disappear after a certain amount of time as long as
there are no new accusations against the accused. A matter can always be brought
back on a later date and issued if new developments have aggravated the situation.
If the clerk decides to issue the charge all this means is that now the case
will begin in court and the accused will be given a date for arraignment for the case
to begin. This is basically how cases begin in District Court.
Every county in Massachusetts has several district courts within it but each
county only has one Superior Court. The superior courts handle more serious
matters which are those which Carry a potential sentence of over 2 1/2 years. 2
1/2 years is the longest a person can be sent to the House of Corrections, if a
charge requires a longer sentence it is served at the department of
corrections. The department of corrections deals with those convicted of felonies and sentenced to over 2 ½ years. The Department of Corrections has different levels from maximum security for violent felons down to minimum-security or Workcamp type facilities.