Show Cause Hearing: Probable Cause in Massachusetts

Show Cause Hearing | Probable Cause Hearing | Clerk Magistrate Hearing

Show cause hearings are held for misdemeanor crimes that did not lead to arrest on the charges. Typically held within a few days of the citation, you will be summoned before the District Court clerk magistrate to determine whether there is probable cause or enough evidence to convict you for a crime.

What Is a Show Cause Hearing in Criminal Court?

Show cause hearings are used to determine whether there is enough evidence against you to file formal charges. They only occur when the accused is not arrested for a misdemeanor crime that they are accused of committing. A show cause hearing is also called a probable cause hearing and a clerk magistrate hearing.

Probable Cause vs. Reasonable Suspicion

Reasonable suspicion is the presumption that a crime has been committed based on facts, circumstances, or informed experience. Probable cause is logical belief that a crime has been committed based on evidence.

The two terms are very similar but have different laws attached for how police can handle a crime being committed. For example, a search and seizure can only be conducted with a search warrant issued by probable cause. A police officer only needs reasonable suspicion to stop someone and ask them questions. Probable cause is needed to make an arrest.

What Does a Clerk Magistrate Do?

At a show cause hearing, the Clerk Magistrate determines whether probable cause exists in order to proceed with criminal charges in District Court for a person accused of committing a misdemeanor. Their primary role is broken into two parts:

  • The Clerk Magistrate must determine that there is probable cause that a crime was committed.
  • The Clerk Magistrate must determine that there is probable cause the person accused has committed the crime.

Determining whether there is probable cause is based upon how much factual evidence may back up the claim that the person accused has committed a misdemeanor crime.

Can You Go to Jail at a Show Cause Hearing?

Show cause hearings only occur for misdemeanor crimes in which the accused was not arrested. These hearings happen before formal charges are issued and are used to determine whether formal charges will be issued against the accused. For this reason, the accused will not be convicted of any punishments, such as fines or jail time, during the show cause hearing.

How to Win a Show Cause Hearing

Since show cause hearings are used to determine whether or not formal charges should be filed against the accused, the way to best “win” a show cause hearing is when the formal charges are not made.

Show cause hearings are based on evidence. When the evidence is presented, both sides have the opportunity to explain their side of the situation. For this reason, you will find the most success in a show cause hearing when you contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to help defend your case.

How to Prepare for a Show Cause Hearing

During a show cause hearing, you, your attorney, and the person accusing you of committing a crime will be present. The person accusing you of committing a crime will share their testimony. This can consist of police officers, independent parties, or a combination of both.

You will have an opportunity at the show cause hearing to present your case. For this reason, it is best to bring a criminal defense attorney with you to defend your case on your behalf. This will help determine whether any charges will be filed against you or not.

The Clerk Magistrate will determine whether there is probable cause to file criminal charges against you for a misdemeanor. Alternatively, the Clerk Magistrate can help settle the dispute before it goes further.

Hiring a defense attorney will help you best prepare for a show cause hearing and give you the best chance at defending your case and avoiding formal criminal charges.

Types of Cases that Have a Show Cause Hearing

There are plenty of misdemeanors that can lead to a show cause hearing. Show cause hearings only occur when the accused was not arrested for the incident. Types of show cause hearings can include:

  • Domestic abuse
  • Child custody
  • OUI
  • DUI

When finding an attorney to defend you in a show cause hearing, it is best to find an attorney that has experience handling your types of cases. For example, for child custody, you should contact a family law attorney will experience helping clients keep or get custody of a child. Experienced attorneys will know the best actions to take to defend you before formal charges are filed.



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