Inside Our Secret Courts

Via The Boston Globe

Credit: Brooks Kraft

Senior Clinical Instructor for Harvard Defenders John Salsberg was quoted in an article describing Massachusetts’ unique “show cause hearings,” hearings that are presided over by court clerks and usually held in private, to determine if there is probable cause to issue a criminal complaint.

“Criminal defense attorney John Salsberg said he has seen countless cases that have been correctly resolved in clerks’ hearings — cases that should never have gone into the regular criminal justice system. Since the 1980s, he has worked as a supervising attorney with the Harvard Defenders, a Harvard Law School organization that represents individuals at these [hearings]. ‘Just because something’s a crime doesn’t mean it needs to be prosecuted,’ Salsberg said. “And I think the clerks have enough experience to know which complaints should end up issuing and which shouldn’t.’”

John elaborated on his statement to the Globe, saying: “Harvard Defenders is the only program in Massachusetts which provides free legal services to the indigent accused defendant who has not been arrested. At show cause hearings we first identify and challenge charges which are legally deficient. If there’s enough evidence to establish probable cause to issue a complaint, we focus on alternative dispositions so that our clients can avoid the stigma of a criminal record and collateral consequences, such as inability to get a job, loss of public housing and deportation. Oftentimes, the police see the need to bring a case before the court, but provide people an opportunity to change their behavior. One of the benefits of private hearings is to provide a safe environment for an apology, which doesn’t have to be public. The system works well, as it currently operates and doesn’t need substantial change.”

Read the full article here.

Filed in: In the News

Tags: Harvard Defenders, John Salsberg

Contact Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs