John E. DeVito, Esq., of DeVito and Visconti, P.A.

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Warrants, Default Warrants, Arrest Warrants, Out of State


An arrest warrant is an order issued by a judge or other competent authority naming a person charged with a crime and ordering the police to arrest and bring that person before the court. The arrest warrant is the process by which a defendant may be brought to the court to answer a charge pending against him. If the police have probable cause to believe that a person has committed a crime, they apply for a criminal complaint and, once issued, can request an arrest warrant.

A default warrant is an order issued against a defendant for failing to appear in court. If a defendant has been summonsed to court, and fails to appear, a default warrant will issue. If a defendant has been before the court and is told to return on a date certain and fails to return, a default warrant issues. If a defendant has concluded his criminal case but has failed to complete the terms of probation, a default warrant will issue if the defendant fails to appear in response to a probation violation notice. Like an arrest warrant, the default warrant is a process by which a defendant is brought before the court and permits the police to make an arrest on the warrant.

Since 1994 all warrants in Massachusetts are entered into a computer system known as the Warrant Management System. Information in this system is communicated with the Criminal Justice Information System, which means that all defaults are entered on a defendant's criminal record. This warrant information is also communicated to all law enforcement agencies (who can make an arrest) and to the Registry of Motor Vehicles. Once the Registry of Motor Vehicles is informed of a default, the defendants motor vehicle license is suspended until such time as the warrant is removed.

Warrants, whether they are arrest warrants or default warrants, are problematic for out-of-state defendants. Most courts will require defendants to appear before the court to remove a warrant. At times some courts may allow an attorney to appear for the defendant to remove a default warrant. The most common situation where an attorney can appear for a defendant is when the case has been resolved but court costs are owed. The attorney, with the court's permission, may be able to stand in for the defendant and provide payment to the court on behalf of the defendant. On occasion, particularly with minor misdemeanor offenses, a good defense attorney may be able to persuade the Assistant District Attorney to agree to dismiss the charges upon the payment of costs. If such an agreement is reached and the court permits, the defense attorney may be able to stand in for the defendant, pay the costs and dispose of the case.

If a defendant has a pending arrest warrant or default warrant, he is best served if he contacts an experienced criminal attorney to appear with him to remove any warrant. With any warrant a defendant always faces the possibility of bail or being held without bail. By appearing in court to remove a warrant with an attorney, the defendant and his attorney will be prepared to counter any argument for a high bail or to be held without bail.

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