A clerk magistrate’s hearing is a preliminary hearing to determine whether or not the accused will have a criminal complaint issue against him and be scheduled to appear for arraignment for formal prosecution.  Normally a police officer files the complaint and related police report with the court, and the court schedules the hearing.  A person other than a police officer may also file a complaint.  At the hearing, which is less formal than an arraignment, the police officer (or other complainant) explains why the accused should be charged.  The accused has a right to be heard but also has a Fifth Amendment right not to answer any questions.  The clerk magistrate must determine whether there is probable cause to support one or more charges and therefore issue the complaint.

In Massachusetts, you normally have a right to a clerk magistrate’s hearing for a misdemeanor case where you were not arrested.

A Continuation Without a Finding (CWOF) in Massachusetts is a way to resolve a criminal case while leaving open the possibility of a technical dismissal.

A CWOF requires a defendant to admit there are sufficient facts to prove the criminal charge or charges against him and to waive all legal rights associated with a trial.  The defendant is placed on probation.  If he completes probation successfully, the case is dismissed.  If he is found in violation of probation, the judge can enter a guilty finding on his record and either put him back on probation or incarcerate him.