Clerk Magistrate Hearings

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Massachusetts Law Reform Institute

A hearing takes place when you or the police file a criminal complaint against someone. This hearing is called a “Clerk Magistrate Hearing” or sometimes a “Clerk’s Hearing” or “Show Cause Hearing.” The hearing is to decide whether or not there is enough information to show that the abusive person may have committed a crime. You will be asked to come to this hearing if you are the victim of the crime, even if you did not file the criminal complaint.

What is a Clerk Magistrate hearing?

There is a person at the court called the "Clerk Magistrate." The Clerk Magistrate is an official person who works for the court but they are not a judge.

When the police or a person file a criminal complaint, the Clerk Magistrate schedules a hearing. The hearing is sometimes just called a “Clerk’s Hearing” or a "show cause" hearing.

The hearing is to see if there are enough facts to show that the accused person may have committed a crime. This hearing happens before someone is officially charged with a crime. The District Attorney's office is not involved yet and no one has a right to a lawyer. This is because the criminal process has not actually started yet.

You will get a letter in the mail from the court that tells you the hearing date and time. If the police filed the criminal complaint, the letter will say that the case is the Police Department vs. the abusive person. If you filed the complaint, it will say your name vs. the abusive person.

The hearing may not be in a courtroom. It is often in a very small conference room. The court will ask the abusive person to go to the hearing. The abusive person may be at the hearing. The hearing is not recorded and is not open to the public. 

What happens at a Clerk Magistrate hearing?

The Clerk Magistrate will read the complaint. Then, they will ask the “complainant” (the person who filed it) to tell them what the other person did. If the police filed the criminal complaint, the detective or police officer will usually read the police report to the Clerk Magistrate. Afterward, you, as the victim can tell the Clerk Magistrate about what happened to you. 


It is important to come to this hearing even if the police filed the complaint. If you don’t, the Clerk Magistrate might not issue the charges. They might think you would not participate in a criminal case or that you do not care about the outcome.

If you filed the complaint yourself, you will testify under oath about what happened. Tell the truth. Be sure that what you say is the same as what you told the police and what was on your complaint form.

You can bring witnesses and evidence with you. Your witnesses can make statements too. Show the Clerk Magistrate any photographs, police records, hospital reports, or property damage bills that you have. It is okay if you do not have any of these. You will still have evidence, because your statements made under oath are evidence.

The abusive person also has the right to make a statement. They may have a lawyer there. That lawyer may ask you questions. You can also hire a lawyer or ask if an advocate can be in the room to support you.

What happens after a Clerk Magistrate hearing?

The Clerk Magistrate will decide whether there are enough facts to know if a crime happened. If the Clerk Magistrate decides that there is enough information, they will issue a criminal complaint. Next, the Clerk Magistrate will either:

  • Send the abusive person a "summons" ordering them to go to court for an "arraignment" or
  • issue a "warrant" for their arrest.

Sometimes, the Clerk Magistrate will say that they are going to “hold the complaint open” for some time. This means that they are giving the accused person a warning but they might issue the charges if something else happens.

If the Clerk Magistrate decides that there is not enough information to know if a crime happened, they will not issue a complaint. Then the case is over. The person accused of the crime would not have a criminal record from the hearing if the complaint is not issued.

If the Clerk Magistrate issues an arrest warrant, how will the arrest happen and how will I know about it?

If the Clerk Magistrate issues an arrest warrant, then the police will find the abusive person. The police will bring them to District Court for arraignment.

If the court is closed when the police arrest the abusive person, the police may put them in a jail cell until the arraignment. They might "post bond" (give the police money to hold). If they post bond, they can go free until the arraignment. The arraignment usually takes place first thing on the next business day.

The police should tell you when they arrest the person who abused you. They are also supposed to tell you if they decide to let them go and when. They do not always remember to call and tell you. If you do not hear from the police, you can call them. Or, contact the Victim/Witness Advocate in the District Attorney's Office for help.

How is this different from the police arresting the abusive person without me filing a criminal complaint?

If the police arrest the abusive person after an incident, the District Attorney's Office will automatically file charges against them. If the District Attorney's office files charges, you do not need to file a criminal complaint yourself. The case goes right to an "arraignment." There is no Clerk Magistrate hearing and no warrant for an arrest.

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