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What will happen after I file a Criminal Complaint?

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed September 2019

There is a person at the court called the "clerk-magistrate." The clerk-magistrate will schedule a hearing. The hearing is called a "show cause" hearing. The show cause hearing is to see if there are enough facts to show that what happened was a crime. The hearing may not be in a courtroom. It may be in a very small room. The court will ask the abusive person to go to the hearing. The abusive person may be at the hearing.

You have the right to make a statement at the show cause hearing. The clerk-magistrate will ask you to testify under oath about what happened. Tell the truth. Be sure that what you say is the same as what you told the police and what was on your complaint form.

You can bring any witnesses with you. Your witnesses can make statements too. Show the clerk-magistrate any photographs, police records, hospital reports, or property damage bills that you have. It is okay if you do not have any of these. You will still have evidence, because your statements made under oath are evidence.

The abusive person also has the right to make a statement. They may have a lawyer there. That lawyer may ask you questions.

The clerk-magistrate will decide whether or not there are enough facts to know if a crime happened. If the clerk-magistrate decides that there is enough information, they will issue a criminal complaint. If the clerk magistrate decides that there is not enough information to know if a crime happened, they will not issue a complaint. If the clerk magistrate does not issue the complaint, the case is over.

What happens after the clerk-magistrate issues the complaint?

If the clerk-magistrate issues a complaint, he or she will then do one of two things:

  1. serve the abuser with a "summons" ordering him to go to court for an "arraignment" or
  2. issue a "warrant" for his arrest.

If the clerk-magistrate issues an arrest warrant, how will the arrest happen and how will I know about it?

If the clerk-magistrate issues an arrest warrant, then the police will find the abusive person and bring them to District Court for arraignment.

If the court is closed when the police arrest the abusive person, the police may put them in a jail cell until the arraignment. They might "post bond" (give the police money to hold). If they post bond, they will be allowed to go free until the arraignment.

The police are supposed to tell you when they arrest the person who abused you. They are also supposed to tell you if they decide to let them go and when. They do not always remember to call and tell you. If you do not hear from the police, you can call the Victim/Witness Advocate in the District Attorney's Office for help.

How is this different from the police arresting the abusive person without me filing a criminal complaint?

If the police arrest the abuser, the District Attorney's Office may file a criminal complaint. If the District Attorney's office files its own complaint, you do not need to file a complaint yourself. The case goes right to an "arraignment." There is no “show cause” hearing and no warrant for an arrest.

If the District Attorney's office decides not to file a complaint, you may choose to file the complaint yourself.

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