When a person contacts the police and accuses someone of a crime, the police sometimes apply for a criminal complaint and request a Clerk-Magistrate’s Hearing (also known as a Show Cause Hearing). As a general matter, the police may request a Clerk-Magistrate’s Hearing in cases alleging misdemeanor offenses that do not involve domestic violence.
At the hearing, the Clerk-Magistrate listens to the evidence and decides whether the police have presented sufficient evidence, known as probable cause, to justify a criminal charge. Thus, a Clerk-Magistrate’s Hearing is a crucial moment for a person facing a criminal accusation: it is the last chance to stop a criminal charge from being issued.
If you want to be in the best position to prevent being charged with a crime at a Clerk-Magistrate’s Hearing, you should hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer to represent you. The hearing often consists of sworn testimony of witnesses, including the person making the accusation, and presentation of additional relevant evidence, such as photographs, videos, phone records, or documents. You have the right to testify and present evidence as well, but you do not have to do so. Whether to testify and present evidence is a very important decision that may have serious ramifications and should only be made after consultation with your attorney.
At the conclusion of the hearing, the Clerk-Magistrate can make one of three decisions.
First, if the Clerk-Magistrate finds probable cause, he or she may issue the charges against you. The Clerk-Magistrate will then schedule an arraignment date where the person will be formally charged before a judge. Any person facing a Clerk-Magistrate’s Hearing certainly wants to avoid this outcome.
Second, if the Clerk-Magistrate does not find probable cause, he or she will dismiss the charges against you. At that moment, the case is over and it does not appear on your record. This is clearly an excellent result.
Third, sometimes the Clerk-Magistrate defers making a final decision for a period of time, such as six months, to see if there are any further allegations against the person, or to see if the situation can somehow be repaired. If the accused person successfully completes this period of deferment, the case will then be dismissed. While a longer route to victory, this is also a great result.