There several types of warrants that you should be aware of in Massachusetts:
- Arrest warrants
- Bench warrants
- Default warrants
An arrest warrant or default warrant is usually requested by a court when they think there is probable cause that you committed a crime. A judge will review the criminal complaint and police report when the request comes in. Based upon the criteria of probable cause, the judge will grant the arrest warrant or deny it.
An arrest warrant also can be issued with a criminal summons from a grand jury indictment. In this case, the Superior Court would hand out the arrest warrant according to the prosecutor’s request.
One of the most common is what is known as a bench warrant. This is warrant ordered by a judge against you in a criminal or civil case. Such a warrant may be issued by a judge for a variety of reasons. Some of the most common are for failing to show up in court for trial, which often is referred to as FTA.
For a bench warrant, your name goes into a database called the Warrant Management System that services all of the law enforcement community. When your name is in that database, if you have any dealings with the police, you can be taken into custody on that outstanding bench warrant.
This could include if you are a victim in a traffic accident, even if you were not at fault. Note that the issuance of a bench warrant can also result in your driver’s license being suspended. This can complicate your legal problems; not only can be you be arrested for the warrant, you also can have additional charges for driving on a suspended license.
In some cases, you may not have been aware that you had a warrant issued for your arrest because you have changed addresses. But note that even if you changed addresses and did not receive the court papers, you still are responsible to show up in court.
The big difference between an arrest and bench warrant is that the police are more likely to actively look for you when you have an arrest warrant.
A bench warrant is not issued related to a serious, active crime, so that warrant will stay in the system merely as ‘outstanding,’ so the police will not actively search for you. But you still should never ignore a bench warrant because eventually, the police will track you down.
In Massachusetts, if you do not make a required court appearance, a default warrant may be issued, which is a subtype of arrest warrant. The underlying logic behind a default warrant differs somewhat from an arrest warrant, the result in the end is the same. With both of these warrants, the police have the power to apprehend and arrest you. Once the warrant has been issued by the court, the original criminal case that brought you to court is suspended on a temporary basis until you return to court to have the warrant removed.
Massachusetts law requires that you must be notified within 30 days that your default warrant was issued. The notice is required to note the charge that the warrant is being issued for, as well as a description of how you can have the warrant canceled or cleared. The courts of Massachusetts are not required to actually locate you to give you the notice.
They do not even have to confirm the warrant notice was received. Rather, the notice is considered satisfactory if it is mailed to your last known physical address. Also, once the default warrant is entered in court the police can place you under arrest. So there is no legal requirement that they wait for you to get notified before you are placed under arrest.
Never make the error of thinking the state has forgotten about your and the warrant. If you missed a court date, a default warrant has been issued.
Warrant Custody Process
After you are taken into custody, you will need to pay bail to be released. Usually, bench warrant bail for not appearing in court will cover fines and court costs for the original offense and also for the failure to appear. Then, you will be given another court date.
If you are aware there is a bench warrant out for you, you can contact the clerk of court or the police department. Make arrangements to come in and pay bail so that the warrant is canceled. It is a good idea to learn how to pay the bail, because usually a personal check will not be enough, and not all localities take credit cards yet.
If you posted bail and then you missed the court date, that money has probably been forfeited. But, if you had a good reason for not being in court and did not call, you may in some cases be able to persuade the judge to give you that bail back. Or, you might be able to have it credited towards your costs and fines. The best lawyers can have a bench warrant removed for you without you even appearing in court.
Having a Warrant Removed
Having an arrest, default or bench warrant can have many serious consequences, but it is possible to have this issue cleared up if the proper actions are taken. So, you should address the issues that led to the warrant as soon as you can. It is wise to have an experienced lawyer in warrants handle the case so that you can limit the consequences.A good lawyer will work to remove your bench warrant by filing all motions with the court, work with the prosecutor on the case, and will appear in court on your behalf.
To remove your outstanding warrant removed in this state, Attorney Nathan will handle all of the stages that are necessary to solve this legal problem, such as:
- File all motions with the court that are necessary
- Work with the prosecutor assigned to the case
- Appear in court on your behalf
Dealing with the outstanding warrant proactively on your own terms is always the best way to handle the matter. If the police eventually catch up with you, and they nearly always do, you could be held in custody against your will. You then have lost all ability to negotiate to fix the problem if the police apprehend you before you have cleared the warrant.
It also should be noted that many Massachusetts judges view arrest warrants more favorably than default warrants. The court will assume you may not have known about your date in court with an arrest warrant. But you generally did get notice when a default warrant was issued.
So What's Next
If you have a warrant out on you in Massachusetts, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney in your corner. Attorney Geoffrey Nathan can help you get the warrant cleared. For a criminal defense legal consultation, please contact him at (617) 472-5775.