What Should I Expect at a Clerk Magistrate Hearing?

There are some very common questions about magistrate hearings in the state of Massachusetts. One of the most frequent is what actually happens on the date of the hearing.

According to the Massachusetts state government website, it is very important that you get to court on the date and time that the hearing is booked. It is very important that you do not arrive late for the hearing!

When you first arrive at the hearing, you should speak to the clerk at the magistrate’s office, unless there is a notice or sign at the courthouse that says you should do something else. Note that this hearing also can be referred to as a probable cause hearing, or a show cause hearing.

The hearing is typically conducted by the clerk magistrate, or by the assistant. Keep in mind that in the magistrate hearing, formal evidence rules do not apply. The police department will give its evidence to support the charges against you. At this point, you can then tell the magistrate why you do not think you were responsible. You also can offer evidence that provides support for your view.

Some of the evidence that you can supply includes:

  • Pictures

  • Documents

  • Witnesses

After you have presented all of your evidence, the magistrate then makes a decision. Note that if you were cited just for a civil violation, the magistrate decides if the police department has provided enough proof for each civil violation. The police must provide a preponderance of the evidence, or whether it is more or less likely that you committed the violation. If so, the magistrate then will find that you are responsible for that violation. If not, the magistrate will find that you are not responsible for that violation. Note that you do NOT have a right to a jury trial for a civil violation

If you were cited for a criminal violation, the magistrate has to decide if there is probable cause to issue a criminal complaint against you. If the magistrate does issue a criminal complaint, you will have the right to have a trial by judge or jury to plead guilty. A grand jury can then be called

Another common question is whether the citing officer needs to be present at your magistrate hearing in Massachusetts. The answer to this is no. The citing officer is not required to be present or to testify. Rather than the citing officer, the police department may choose to provide a copy of the citation or the police report as evidence against you

If you only were cited for a civil violation, Massachusetts law states that the citation alone is enough for evidence against you. However, the citation alone is not conclusive. If the citing officer does not appear, and no other police representative appears and you do show up, the magistrate will find that you are not responsible for any civil violation, and will also deny any criminal complaint.

If you only were cited for a civil violation, and the citing officer and no other police officer comes to the magistrate hearing, and YOU also do not show up, your request for a hearing will be denied. You will need to pay the citation as written.

If you are found responsible for a civil violation, the magistrate usually will impose the fine that is one the citation. For a speeding violation, the magistrate is required to impose the scheduled assessment. This is $50 plus $10 for each mile per hour over the limit.

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