Should I have a lawyer at the show-cause hearing?

One of the most common questions that I get about show-cause hearings is whether it is a good idea to bring a lawyer.  Many people think that bringing a lawyer will make them “look guilty” or that they can simply explain that they are innocent and do not need a lawyer.  Both of these common beliefs are grave errors that can set you up for a difficult and expensive criminal case.

To review, a show-cause hearing (also called a clerk’s hearing) is an informal hearing to determine whether you will be charged with a crime.  You can read more about show cause hearings here.

If I’m innocent, why do I need a lawyer?

You know that you are innocent, but nobody else knows that.  And they don’t know you.  You are probably used to going through life being able to be believed when you say something is true, but court is different.  If you got a summons to a show cause hearing, somebody is accusing you of a crime.  That person might be a police officer, or a fellow member of the community.  They are going to come into court and tell a story about what a bad, guilty person you are, and why they believe that you did the bad thing.  Your denial is a good start, but it’s not enough.  The clerk-magistrate doesn’t know either of you, and doesn’t know whom to believe.  A good lawyer will help show the clerk why they should take your side.  That might involve finding and preparing independent witnesses or hard evidence.  It might involve preparing difficult questions to ask the complaining witness, to show why they are mistaken or lying.  And it might involve making legal arguments that you never imagined–for example, if there is case law that says the type of conduct you are accused of does not violate the statute in question.  A lawyer’s first job is to spot issues, dispassionately identify the strengths and weaknesses of each side’s case, and help you decide what your most successful strategy will be.  Often the most successful strategy is one that avoids the parts of the case that carry the most emotional weight for you, and focuses on a weakness in the other side’s case.

Second, innocent people are not always very good at explaining their innocence.  Many people want to argue that they are a good person who has never done this sort of thing before, that they have no motive to commit the bad act, and that they would have to be utterly stupid to commit the crime the way it is described.  These arguments often fall flat because they do not directly respond to the evidence against you–and because everybody in the criminal justice system has seen hundreds of cases where first offenders committed crimes with no apparent motive, and did so stupidly!

The bottom line: you can protest your innocence to somebody who already wants to believe you, but you need a lawyer to show your innocence to somebody who might not want to believe you.

Will I look guilty if I have a lawyer?

This is a very common concern, but it is misplaced.  Court staff, including clerks and judges, expect that anybody who can afford to have a lawyer will do so.  Lawyers help you be better prepared for the hearing, present your best defense, and understand what is happening.  Most clerk-magistrates and judges also genuinely want to get to the truth and do the right thing.  They know that people without lawyers do not necessarily know how to present their cases well, and they can feel more confident in their decisions (one way or the other) if they know the defendant was represented by a strong lawyer who put on their best case.

If anything, having a lawyer works in your favor, all things being equal.  The magistrate knows that you had to spend money (or maybe call in a favor) to get a lawyer.  If they think you may be guilty of some minor misbehavior, they know that the cost of the lawyer means you are not “getting off scot-free” if you had to hire a lawyer.

The cost of hiring a lawyer to defend yourself at the show-cause hearing is 10%-20% of the cost of hiring a lawyer to defend you at trial if the complaint issues, and most lawyers will credit what you paid for the show-cause towards your fees for the criminal case, if you lose.  This makes hiring a lawyer for the show-cause a very good investment.  If you have an upcoming show-cause hearing, give us a call at 617-749-2353 or click “book now” to schedule your free consultation!

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