How Do Criminal Cross Complaints Work in Massachusetts?

Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 218 §35A provides a mechanism through which people can apply for criminal complaints. The process is simple. Go down to the district court clerk’s office, ask for an application for a complaint and fill it out. If the complaint is for a misdemeanor, and in some instances a felony, the clerk issues a notice to the accused for a clerk magistrate hearing. At that proceeding the clerk magistrate hears evidence and makes a determination as to whether or not probable cause exists. If it does, a complaint can issue. Sometimes, people wrongly accused of a crime such as an assault and battery, use this process as a defense. The cross-allegation is commonly referred to a cross complaint. This post looks at how cross complaints work in Massachusetts. Clerk Magistrate Hearing

Cross Complaints Are Filed When the Accused is Actually the Victim

Several times a month I meet with clients charged with assault and battery related cases. Many of them were actually the victim. They got charged with a crime due to the fact that the other party made a complaint as a preemptive strike. The other party might have felt that he or she would be charged so they act first and get a complaint. Or, sometimes the other person makes a complaint to gain an advantage in a relationship or does so in retaliation for something non-criminal that occurred. In these situations it is often best for the accused to file a cross-complaint against the other party. The court will usually schedule the competing claims at the same time for a clerk magistrate hearing. More often than not this results in a favorable resolution for the person wrongly accused.

What Happens at Clerk Magistrate Hearings Involving Cross Complaints?

As I have mentioned in countless blog posts, anyone who goes into court without a lawyer is making a big mistake. This could not be any more true than with clerk magistrate hearings. In cases where cross complaints are being heard most lawyers will tell their client to say nothing and invoke their Fifth Amendment privilege. Once this is done the clerk will not be hearing any evidence. The result is a dismissal of all complaints. People who appear without a lawyer and insist on being heard will likely be slapped with a criminal complaint. The criminal allegation costs more money to defend than the clerk’s hearing would have cost. And of course there is always a risk of having a criminal record.

What is an Example of a Case Where a Cross Complaint Would be Beneficial?

An article in today’s Newburyport News highlights a classic example of where cross complaints would be advantageous. Ryan Emmett was arraigned in the Newburyport District Court on a charge of domestic assault and battery yesterday. He was described as “bloodied and battered”. During a dispute over money the alleged victim claimed that Emmett tried to strangle her with both hands and that she scratched his face while fighting him off. Her chest and neck appeared “puffy”. Emmett claimed that the woman attacked him while he was sleeping without provocation. Here, a cross complaint might help Emmett.

Domestic Assault Defense

Our office has been defending people charged with domestic assault and battery for almost thirty years. Call us at 617-263-6800 if you need a lawyer and want to know how to defend your case. No case is too difficult for us to defend.