Attorney Sam’s Take: Welcome to the first posting of a new weekly feature on the daily Boston Criminal Lawyer Blog. Each Friday, I will post in this particular format, dealing specifically with an issue which people face every day in the criminal justice system.
THIS WEEK: WHAT EXACTLY IS AN “ARREST WARRANT”, HOW LONG IS IT VALID AND WHAT CAN YOU DO TO GET RID OF IT?
An arrest warrant is similar to a search warrant that you hear so much about on television and in the movies. You know the scene…the detective shows up on a murder suspect’s door and asks to come in.
The suspect sneers, “Where’s your warrant?”
The Detective waives a piece of paper and the suspect frowns and opens the door to let the detective in.
The search warrant is simply an order from the court allowing the police to search a particular place. There are all kinds of technical issues with search warrants, but that is basically all that they are. An arrest warrant is simply an order from the court allowing law enforcement to take the person named in the warrant into custody.
Normally, there are certain restrictions for when an officer can take someone into custody…in other words, arrest him. With the arrest warrant, nothing else is needed. The officer finds the suspect listed on the warrant and can arrest him on the spot.
So, what do you have to do wrong in order to get an arrest warrant issued against you?
An arrest warrant will issue for two reasons. One is that charges have been filed against you that have been filed, whether through a criminal complaint or, in the case of felony charges, an indictment. The warrant is issued to allow the police to go pick the defendant charged to answer the charges. Once the defendant is brought into court, the warrant is vacated, or terminated.
The type of arrest warrant most often issued, however, is a default warrant. This a warrant that issues if the defendant did not show up in court when he or she was supposed to. Such warrants issue whether the charges are for white collar crimes, sexual assault operating under the influence. They issue in type of criminal matter.
For some reason, defendants sometimes think that if they ignore their court case, it will simply “go away”. This is not the case in the criminal justice system.
If a defendant does not show up in court, the court will order a default warrant, an arrest warrant ordering that defendant’s arrest because of the failure to appear.
These warrants are acted upon, they are not simply put into a drawer and forgotten.
The default warrant, like any arrest warrant, will only be vacated when the defendant is brought back to court to answer the charges. Unlike other arrest warrants, however, there are additional penalties when arrested on the warrant and brought into court.
First of all, because the Commonwealth had to go through the time and trouble to find you, there is a statutory fee imposed, the amount depending on how many such warrants you accumulated. The other penalty is often paid out in time behind bars.
The reason for bail is to ensure the defendant’s return to court to face charges. Once the defendant fails to do that, whatever bail that was posted is usually forfeited. That means that it goes to the Commonwealth. When the defendant is finally brought in on the default warrant, that money is no longer there as possible bail money. Further, whatever bail amount had been ordered in the past is usually deemed insufficient to get you to return, for obvious reasons. This means that the amount of bail amount required to gain your freedom will be raised…assuming the bail option is still there for you at all.
It does not matter how long it takes….the default warrant does not disappear until you appear in court. It can take years. It can take decades. They’ll wait.
In the meantime, however, it is becoming less and less likely that you will remain free for that long. Law enforcement, like the rest of us, has entered the computer age. The courts and the police agencies now are linked up throughout the country in terms of things like outstanding warrants. If you are found in another state, often even another country, you will be held there until the Commonwealth comes to pick you up and bring you home.
Home to heavier bail conditions and fees.
So, if you have a warrant pending against you, it is best not to ignore it. Your best bet to be able to get out of custody once you re-appear in court, which you inevitably will, is to return voluntarily. The best way to do that? Contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to set it up and try to minimize the damage.
In the meantime, wherever you are,
Have a good, safe and law-abiding weekend!