In Massachusetts District Court cases can begin by either an arrest and application by the police for a criminal charge to be issued or an application for complaint requesting a clerk magistrates hearing also known as a show cause hearing. When the police are witnesses to an event or the charge is a felony they have the right to apply directly for the charge to be issued and an accused would be brought to court in custody or sent a summons for an arraignment. An arraignment is the formal reading the of charges in open court where a plea of not guilty is entered and the court inquires of the accused as to whether he has an attorney or is seeking a court-appointed attorney because they cannot afford a private attorney. A court appointed attorney is only provided to the indigent or those who make less than a certain amount every year. The amount of salary required to not qualify for a court appointed attorney is very low, if you work at all it is difficult to receive a court-appointed attorney.
The other way the case can begin in District Court other then by arrest and arraignment is by application for criminal complaint. A person is entitled to have a criminal clerk magistrates hearing related to misdemeanors in which the police are not a witness. The clerk magistrate or show cause hearing is an informal hearing in front of the clerk magistrate in which a police officer usually reads from a police report as to the facts which make up the charge against the accused. At times witnesses are brought in by the police to testify especially when it is one witness’s word versus the accused which makes up the case. The standard of proof for issuing the charge is one of probable cause to believe that the accused was involved in the crime. The clerk magistrate’s hearing is not a trial, rules of evidence are relaxed and a clerk is the one who decides whether probable cause exists to issue a charge. An accused can testify and also bring in witnesses or evidence to help explain his side. One must be very careful because the accused will be placed under oath anything a person says at the hearing can be used against him on a later date if the charges issue.
The clerk magistrate can decide not to issue the charge and take the matter under advisement where it will disappear after a certain amount of time as long as there are no new accusations against the accused. A matter can always be brought back on a later date and issued if new developments have aggravated the situation.