When an individual is charged with a crime over which the District Court has jurisdiction (all misdemeanors, felonies punishable of a sentence of up to five years and certain other felonies), a criminal complaint issues against them. A criminal complaint is the document that identifies the crime that is alleged to have been committed. Before a criminal complaint can issue, there must be a finding by a magistrate that there is probable cause for the complaint to issue. A magistrate is a District Court official who is authorized by law to authorize the issuance of criminal complaints and issue process (such as an arrest warrant or summons). Probable cause is a very low standard; it simply means that reasonably trustworthy information exists that is sufficient to warrant a prudent person to believe that a crime has been committed and the accused is the perpetrator.
Television crime dramas - and televised congressional testimony - have made "taking the Fifth" part of our collective civic consciousness. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution provides that no person "shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself," and, similarly, Article 12 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights states that no person shall "be compelled to accuse, or furnish evidence against himself." But what happens when these 18th Century legal principles confront uniquely 21st Century circumstances?