What Happens If We Win at the Hearing?
A Clerk Magistrate hearing can end in one of three ways. The bad way is you lose and the complaint issues (more on that later). The other two ways could both be counted as wins. The best way is that the complaint is completely denied, meaning probable cause is not found and the complaint is not issued. When that happens, the hearing is over and that’s it.
There is, however, a middle ground where probable cause can be found but the complaint is not issued. It’s still filed—but with a delay. The clerk can order what is considered an unofficial probation period by filing the complaint for, let’s say, six months or even a year, and during that time, you’re supposed to stay out of trouble. It’s unofficial because the clerk doesn’t really have any authority to order probation in a pre-arraignment, pre-case hearing. Let’s say you’re involved in a property damage case. The clerk can say, “Look, I’m going to file this for six months, and before the six months ends, I want to see proof that you took care of the property damage. I’ll run your criminal record, and as long as there aren’t any new entries in your criminal history, I’m going to dismiss this.” At the end of those six months, your case can go away, assuming your insurance took care of the property damage or you wrote a check to the other party to cover the damage, and also assuming you haven’t been arrested for something else.
When I say your case goes away, I mean that quite literally; your court file for the incident will be destroyed. It’s not going to sit in a filing cabinet or anything. It will remain as a non-public record, so no one can get their hands on it or even make a copy of it; the same goes for the police report, as well. For that reason, I consider any instance where the complaint does not issue a win. Though it’s better to have no probable cause found and the complaint denied, we still win if the complaint is filed for a span of time during which you do whatever the clerk requires of you. The goal heading into a Clerk Magistrate’s hearing is for the complaint not to issue.
What Happens If We Lose at the Hearing?
If you lose at a hearing, that means the clerk has found probable cause to support the complaint. He’ll issue the complaint and send it to the district attorney’s office, and now you really enter into the justice system. Your case belongs to the district attorney’s office. If you’re at your hearing with an attorney or if the clerk is accommodating, the clerk can set a date right then and there for your arraignment, so you can ask for one that works for you. Otherwise, the clerk will say, “You’ll receive a summons in the mail for a date for your arraignment.”
You have to show up at court to be arraigned on the date of your summons—it’s not optional. If you do not show up for your arraignment, a warrant will go out for your arrest. At arraignment, formal charges are read to you and brought against you, and this is when the entry on your criminal history is actually entered. If you can’t afford an attorney, one will now be appointed for you. Your criminal case has now begun.
Can I Appeal If I Lose at the Hearing?
There isn’t really an appeal process per se, though you can appeal the legality of the decision in your case, which means you’re challenging the decision of the clerk in his finding of probable cause. Every complaint in Massachusetts must have probable cause within the four corners, meaning everything that needs to be in the complaint must be in it. You can’t rely on things outside of it; it must be in it and must be full at the time of its issuance. In your case, if the complaint isn’t supported by probable cause, you can challenge that and ask the judge later on in your case to dismiss it by saying, “Your Honor, this is insufficient; this complaint is not supported by probable cause and was issued in error.” You can actually do that at your arraignment if you wanted to, which is why it’s helpful and important to include an attorney in your case as early as possible.
I’ve had many cases where we were involved at the Clerk Magistrate hearing stage and had things not go our way. If we thought that was in error, we would show up at the arraignment and then, before the clerk formally read the charges, we filed our motion, argued the motion, and could still manage to have the case dismissed prior to arraignment. In those instances, the client’s record stays clean and everything remains non-public, like it never happened. So, again, though there technically is not an appealable function, you can still have things reviewed by a judge.
For more information on Clerk Magistrate Hearings in Massachusetts, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (617) 718-5550 today.