Once someone doesn’t show up for a court date and is therefore in default, there is usually a warrant issued for that person’s arrest. Perhaps they were in default because they were originally arrested, put up bail, were told to show up at court the next day for the arraignment, and never even once set foot in the courthouse. Or perhaps they had an ongoing case against them, showed up for a number of court dates as the case progressed, and then, at some point, just stopped showing up at court before the case was ever resolved. Or perhaps, they disposed of the case by way of a plea or trial, were then placed on probation, violated some conditions of their probation, were told to show up in court for a probation violation hearing, and then just disappeared.
In every one of these instances, the arrest warrant never goes away but is always outstanding. That may be why some people are shocked when, as far away as 25 years after they became a fugitive, they are stopped and arrested on the old warrant. Despite their protests of “Oh, come on, that was so very long ago” or “I don’t even remember that. Are you sure?” the arrest warrant is still in full force and effect.
Sometimes people are arrested on an old warrant because the police actively search for and find them. Other times people are arrested on old warrants by random chance. For example, they get stopped in their motor vehicle for a speeding ticket, the officer issuing their ticket routinely calls in and runs their name to see if there are any outstanding warrants before they let the driver leave, and their name pops up as being in default.
If you are, in fact, found to have an outstanding default warrant, then you are not supposed to be able to be released on bail until you are brought to court and a judge makes that determination. That could be the next morning or, if you are picked up just before the weekend, you might have to wait several days in a police station lock-up cell until the court reopens on Monday morning. This is unlike many other instances where someone is arrested, brought to the police station and can be bailed out directly from there within the hour.
If you have moved away and are living out of state then the situation might be even more difficult. If you are picked up out-of-state, you could be held for a number of weeks as that particular state may be waiting for an answer whether Massachusetts deems the case important enough for it to have you extradited and send Massachusetts law enforcement officers to travel to pick you up.
If you have not shown up in court and have an arrest warrant outstanding against you, a criminal defense attorney can be helpful in helping you get rid of that warrant. But, in most cases, it will likely involve you and your attorney going to court to accomplish that. If you are from out of state and are traveling to Massachusetts, your criminal defense attorney can arrange things with the court and the prosecutor’s office in advance so that you might be able to remove the default and then go home on the same day if you’d like.
After a person gets rid of their fugitive status and has their warrant removed, they are no longer in default. But that does not mean the case is thrown out or dismissed. It just means you no longer have an arrest warrant against you and now the case can proceed against you in regular orderly fashion. Sometimes, if the case is particularly old, the prosecutor may no longer have enough evidence still existing to make their case. It may be that witnesses can’t be located after all that time has passed or may even have died; police offices on the case years earlier may have retired; or the evidence such as, for example, seized drugs not being saved. So, once the warrant is removed, the prosecutor will have to make a determination whether their case against you is still “viable.” In other words, do they still have the witnesses and evidence to prove their case?
Often, your lawyer can negotiate in advance, not only the removal of the default, but also a resolution of the entire case, so that everything can still be completed on the same day.
Once in a while, although it is rare, it can be arranged for you to get a default removed without even making an appearance in court. Although this has been done, this does not happen too often though because it is equivalent to saying to the court, “I’m a fugitive. I’m still not coming back, but just please un-do my fugitive status.”
It is always better to have a default warrant removed. If someone voluntarily comes to court, it shows the judge that you are willing to take responsibility for your case and do the right thing, If, on the other hand, the police arrest you and bring you to court, no matter how much you try to say that you either were planning on coming to court on your own or you were not aware that you were ever due in court, the judge will likely not give your declarations much credibility.
Besides, spending every day of your life looking over your shoulder, wondering if you could be handcuffed and taken away at any moment either in front of your colleagues at work or your family, is a burden you might not want to live with. This is especially so if, with the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney, you can successfully remove the warrant and get an unfortunate episode from perhaps way back in the past behind you so that you can move on.
Do you have an outstanding arrest warrant because you failed to show up in court before the case was over? Contact us today for a free legal consult.