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Clerk Magistrate's Hearing

If you have received a summons in the mail directing you to attend a clerk magistrate’s hearing, you need to know: (1) what happens at a clerk magistrate’s hearing (also called a clerk's hearing), and (2) how Attorney Lown can protect your rights at this hearing.

Example of what a summons looks like

What is a clerk's hearing?


At a clerk magistrate’s hearing, a clerk determines whether a criminal complaint should issue against the accused person.  Usually the police did not witness the alleged crime and the accused person was not arrested.  It is just the accuser’s word that initiates the process.  If you fail to attend the clerk’s hearing at the date and time indicated on the summons, the clerk may issue the complaint against you in your absence. ​

Attorney Lown wins Clerk Magistrate hearing

The victory was achieved through Attorney Lown’s cross-examination of the accuser and a brief argument to the Clerk Magistrate. More

Attorney Zachary Lown

Attorney Zachary Lown

To decide whether or not the complaint should issue, the clerk must determine whether there is “probable cause” to issue the complaint.  Many clerks assume that “probable cause” is a low standard, however our state supreme court has defined probable cause as “something definite and substantial,” which “is more than a [mere] suspicion of criminal involvement.” 

In addition, every crime includes “elements.”  Elements are all of the things which the prosecution must prove.  At the clerk magistrate’s hearing, the applicant must show that there is probable cause for each and every element of the alleged crime.  If evidence is lacking on any element, Attorney Lown will argue that the complaint should not issue. 


In addition to arguing that there was no probable cause for the complaint, there are other ways to prevent the complaint from issuing.  For example, if it is a fairly minor matter, particularly one in which no one was hurt, our state supreme court has said that the clerk may “screen a variety of minor criminal or potentially criminal matters out of the criminal justice system through a combination of counseling, discussion, or threat of prosecution.”  This becomes especially important when the accuser changes their mind and tells the clerk that they are not interested in pursuing the case.  It is also useful where the issue is really one that should be brought as a non-criminal lawsuit, such as a contract dispute.  In these situations, Attorney Lown will argue to the clerk that the clerk should not issue the complaint. 

A clerk also has the option of putting the complaint off for a period of time, usually six months or a year, conditioned upon the parties resolving their dispute or there being no more problems between the parties.  This is sometimes referred to as “continuance and compliance.”


Attorney Lown can protect your rights at a clerk magistrate’s hearing.  Attorney Lown can argue that the complaint should not issue against you.  Even if the complaint issues, the hearing provides valuable information to use in your defense.  Attorney Lown will have the opportunity to observe your accuser, gauge how believable they are, receive evidence, and begin preparing your defense.

Contact the Lown Law Firm to speak with a lawyer for a clerk's hearing.       

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Tel:  617-676-7339

Fax: 617-870-0500 

Address50 Congress Street, Suite 600, Boston, MA 02109

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