What is a Show Cause Hearing?


In Massachusetts, if someone is accused of committing a misdemeanor crime and is not arrested, that person is generally entitled to a clerk magistrate’s or show cause hearing. Under M.G.L. c. 40U, § 15, a person can appeal a decision by a municipal hearing officer to the district court.

If you're accused of committing a misdemeanor crime and you aren't arrested, you're generally entitled to a show cause hearing. A show cause hearing is often referred to a "clerks hearing" or "magistrate hearing". The hearing is held before a district court clerk magistrate to determine if there is probable cause to believe you committed a crime. You may also request a show cause hearing within 4 days of receiving a motor vehicle citation that charges only misdemeanor offenses. The hearing is generally not open to the public and takes place in an office-like setting within your local courthouse. At the hearing the magistrate will determine whether there is sufficient evidence to issue the complaint. The accused can present evidence, cross-examination witnesses and supply any other type of evidence they wish to be considered to assist the clerk in determining probable cause. At the conclusion of the hearing, if the clerk finds no probable cause, then the complaint does not issue and the matter is over. However, if clerk finds no probable cause for the complaint, the prosecuting police department could appeal to the ruling to a district court judge and then another hearing at a future date would be held. However, if the clerk finds no probable cause and the police do not appeal the matter is closed.


If the clerk magistrate finds probable cause, which they often do, they can still NOT forward the matter to the district attorney. The magistrate could in their discretion keep the matter "open" for a period of time and simply close it at some future date. That is ideal since, you don’t come back to court and the matter will never appear on any criminal record. Another option is for the clerk to determine that probable cause exist and they will keep it open for a period of time AND the accused will perform some type of action, such as pay reinstitution, take anger management class, or a driving course, essentially something remedial in nature.

If the magistrate finds probable cause and they believe no reasonable alternatives exist before them, then a complaint will be issued and you'll be given a date to appear for your arraignment. Although, some clerks will allow date for arraignment to be done that day. But the goal to never have to go that far.

You are not entitled to a show cause hearing if:

  • You were arrested on the charges
  • The charges include a felony
  • The magistrate determines that you appear dangerous, likely to injure someone, or likely to commit another crime. ##


Read here a Boston Globe article where the newspaper sued the trial court arguing the otherwise private “show cause” hearings should be private. The SJC determined that the hearings should remain private but recorded in each instance. Though the hearings continue to remain unrecorded on occasion, it is important to remember that the sworn testimony in a clerk magistrate hearing should expect to be recorded.

If you have questions about a Clerk Magistrate Hearing in Massachusetts, your welcome to call for a no-cost phone consultation with Attorney Barabino at his Medford, Massachusetts office @781-393-5900. ###