Best Practices: Clearing Arrest Warrants

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Best Practices: Clearing Arrest Warrants

There are a number of ways a warrant can issue for your arrest. Generally, warrants fall into two categories: bench warrants and straight warrants. Bench warrants, as the name implies, are issued by a judge from the bench. They are commonly used when a defendant in an ongoing criminal matter "defaults," or fails to appear, at a scheduled  hearing. A straight warrant is issued before a criminal case has begun, based on a complaint and police report, and is commonly used to arrest an individual in order to bring him to court to be arraigned on a new charge.

If you are made aware of an outstanding arrest warrant against you, the best practice is to address it immediately by appearing in court voluntarily and with legal counsel. There are several compelling reasons not to ignore an open warrant in your name. First, any type of arrest warrant gives police the right to enter your home if they have a reasonable belief that you are present within the dwelling. Once inside, police may do a "protective sweep" of areas in your home, which can often lead to the discovery of illegal items that generate additional charges. By going to court right away to clear a warrant, you limit the chances of being arrested in public, or having the police enter your home to affect an arrest. Second, a judge will take into account how a defendant arrived in court that day if the District Attorney is requesting cash bail. In Massachusetts, the bail system is used to ensure an individuals appearance at court hearings. It is not meant to be punitive, but rather to incentivize defendants to appear under threat of forfeiting the money they posted. If an individual walks in to a courthouse on his own to clear an arrest warrant, the judge will be more inclined to believe that the individual can be trusted to appear at their next hearing without imposing cash bail. If the warrant has been outstanding for a long time, and the individual is arrested and brought to court in custody, the judge will be less inclined to release that individual on their promise to reappear, and may feel that cash bail is justified.

Once you have appeared in court, the warrant will be recalled and you will be given a piece of paper titled Notice of Warrant Cancellation. It is a good practice to keep the notice of cancellation in your possession for the pendency of your case. Although the court may have cleared the arrest warrant, the police use a separate system called WMS (Warrant Management System). WMS may still show the warrant as active due to an error or a lag in communication between the courts and the police. The notice of cancellation is your safeguard against such errors that may otherwise lead to your arrest.

Because each situation is unique to the individual, it is always appropriate to retain counsel and devise a legal strategy with him or her before appearing in front of a judge.

Winn Law, PC

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