Citizens in MA Can File Felony Criminal Charges in Secret Courts


In Massachusetts, private citizens can file felony charges against people in a secret court. There are nine states that permit this process for misdemeanor charges, but Leftistchusetts is the only one that allows it for felonies.


A citizen can file criminal charges against a person. These allegations are vetted and sometimes settled, in a secretive system that has no parallel in any other state. According to victims’ advocates and lawyers, some do it to intimidate the target(s) of the charges.

Many magistrates do not even have law degrees, yet they have vast powers to decide if there’s enough evidence for criminal charges to go to public arraignment, as well as to negotiate settlements in cases. Proceedings are not recorded, and reporters are not allowed in to watch.

The closed-door hearings are typically held in private offices without public notice, most hearings are unrecorded, and thousands of substantiated cases die there every year. Clerks rejected nearly 62,000 cases over the past two years, including roughly 18,000 cases in which the clerks believed there was “probable cause,” or enough evidence to justify the charges, according to the Globe investigation.

A report by The Boston Globe uncovered several cases in which defendants, including prominent public officials, escaped serious charges, even when there was substantial evidence that the suspects had committed the crimes.


The Boston Globe describes the saga of one woman as an example of how it works.

Priscilla Rodas has photos of a black eye and a facial fracture she suffered in a road rage incident during which, she says, retired Boston cop David Cataldo punched her and her 15-year old son.

Cataldo, who had been investigated by internal affairs while on the job with one finding of excessive force, said he was assaulted.

During a hearing in December — at which the Globe was barred access — Patrick Bulmer, an assistant clerk magistrate approved the charges against the retired officer but also allowed his counter-claim against the mother.

So Ms. Rodas is facing the same misdemeanor assault charge as the man who she says punched her as she tried to keep him away from her son.

“I feel like less than nothing,” said Rodas, as she emerged from the clerk’s hearing. “Someone hurts you, and it’s still on you.”

Both will be arraigned on Jan. 30. The case against the son has been transferred to juvenile court and he has not been formally charged. Bulmer did not return requests for comment.

There’s footage!

The Globe reviewed footage of the incident provided by Rodas’s lawyer. It appears to confirm the police report of the case. Cataldo was “the aggressor,” and the teenage boy got into a fight while protecting his mother. In the video, Priscilla Rodas appears to be trying to separate the boy and the former officer. The retired officer and the boy both threw punches. She then held Cataldo to keep him there until police arrived.

Cataldo alleged injuries from his altercation with the teenage boy. In his application for counter-charges, he said the mother also grabbed his shirt, and “threw between 2 (to) 5 punches.” Her punches were not apparent in the videos reviewed by the Globe. In a 911 call reviewed by the Globe, Rodas tells the dispatcher that she is holding onto Cataldo so he wouldn’t leave.

The process is likely intended to ease the burden on the courts, but this process does not appear to be in keeping with the spirit of our Constitution.

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