A Clerk Magistrate Hearing, sometimes called a show cause hearing, may be used in misdemeanor cases such as OUI, negligent operation of a motor vehicle, property damage, shoplifting, or larceny. Instead of a formal arrest, a private hearing is scheduled to determine whether there is sufficient probable cause to proceed with a criminal case.
A Clerk Magistrate Hearing may seem less serious than being arrested, but they are by no means a “get out of jail free” card. The outcome of the hearing will determine whether you will have to defend yourself in court and the kinds of penalties you may be facing upon conviction.
Overview of a Clerk Magistrate Hearing
These hearings are informal and may be held in an office instead of a courtroom, but you will appear before the Clerk Magistrate in the District Court. You, your attorney, and the person accusing you of committing the crime will all be present. In general, Clerk Magistrate Hearings proceed as follows:
- Complainant’s testimony. The party bringing the case against you will be asked to describe their version of the incident and the reasons you should be charged. Parties are typically law enforcement agents or the independent party who filed a private criminal claim.
- Your defense. Your attorney will have the opportunity to present your case and make a statement on your behalf. The arguments an attorney uses in your defense will depend on the charges, your criminal history, and specific factors in the case.
- Determination of probable cause. The magistrate will listen to the given facts and decide whether there is probable cause for a criminal complaint. Probable cause is the standard that must be reached in order to issue charges, and it only requires a low level of proof. If the magistrate determines that there is enough evidence to charge you with a crime outside the District Court’s jurisdiction, your case will be sent to the district attorney’s office.
- Alternatives to issuing a complaint. The magistrate has the power to resolve the case instead of sending the matter to a higher court. If the charges against you are minor or you’ve never committed an offense before, the magistrate may issue a continuance so you can complete a probationary period. If you complete the terms of the probation without further problems with the law, your case could be dismissed. Similarly, the magistrate could dismiss the charges against you after you complete a treatment program or counseling to address the root cause of your offense.
When Should I Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney?
These hearings offer a great opportunity for you to end your case as quickly and quietly as possible. You should absolutely contact a criminal defense attorney before the hearing—someone who can take advantage of the benefits of a private criminal procedure. Your lawyer might be able to get your case dismissed or voided, or argue for lesser penalties depending on the circumstances of your arrest.
Your attorney can also take steps to mitigate the damage even before your appearance in front of the magistrate. For example, our attorneys can enroll you in a substance abuse program or anger management course immediately to show that you are willing to take steps against reoffending.
If the magistrate issues charges against you, you will face a formal arraignment and answer charges in a higher court. You will definitely need an attorney at this point, especially if you want to avoid jail time, high fines, and a criminal record.
The earlier you contact us, the better your chances of avoiding a drawn-out court case that can have a serious impact on your future. At Nate Amendola Defense, we do everything we can to mitigate the charges against you and prevent the fallout from the offense from ruining your life. Contact us today to set up a confidential consultation and have us get started on building your best defense.