Several times each week someone calls my office with this question. The answer varies from case to case. The consequence of defaulting from your obligations in the Massachusetts criminal courts is extremely fact specific. Much depends on when you defaulted and why you defaulted. Some situations are considered quite serious. Others are not. This post summarizes the most common scenarios people face when defaulting. No matter what category or example seems to fit your case it is important to consult with a lawyer if you are in default. There is probably a warrant out for your arrest and you will need a criminal defense lawyer to protect your rights.
Defaulting After Arraignment or Release By Court Order or Other Lawful Authority
There is a statute in Massachusetts, G.L. c. 276 Sec. 82A that makes it a crime to default after your have been arraigned or released by a court order or some other lawful authority. This statute is sometimes referred to as the “bail jumping” statute. In essence, if the crime you are facing is a misdemeanor you can be fined up to ten thousand dollars and sentenced to one year in county jail. If you jumped bail on a felony you are looking at five years in state prison and a possible fifty thousand dollar fine. In addition, if you are charged with bail jumping your sentence runs from and after the sentence you get on the underlying crime. This crime is not often prosecuted and if you are well represented your lawyer is often able to help you avoid the consequences of this statute. Here are some of the factors that figure into the district attorney’s use of this statute. Why were you in default? If you forgot the court date, or had it incorrect, the judge and prosecution will often forgive the oversight. If you got “cold feet” or were trying to avoid or frustrate the prosecution your problems might worsen. How was the default removed? If you went into court voluntarily with your lawyer to explain the situation to the judge things will probable go better for you than if you were arrested for a new crime or pursuant to a default warrant. At what stage of the proceedings did you default? If it was during trial or shortly before trial the consequences might be more substantial than if you defaulted at a pretrial or preliminary motion proceeding.
Recently we have received calls from clients who are in default in serious drug cases. Following the Massachusetts drug lab scandal they now want to come into court and resolve their case. If the drug case is no longer prosecutable they will in fact likely face charges under the “bail jumping” statute particularly since their objective was to avoid prosecution in the first place. Defaulting for them has not made their problems go away.
Defaulting Prior to Arraignment or Service of Complaint
Many of my clients who are in default never even knew that they had a pending criminal case. I get calls monthly from professionals who live in distant states who are shocked to learn that they have a warrant for a criminal case in Massachusetts. Here is the typical situation. At one time they lived in Massachusetts. They were never arrested but summonsed to court either for an arraignment or clerk’s hearing. The only problem is that they never received the summons. It may have gone to the wrong address. Even if it had gone to the correct address they might not have received it. This occurs frequently with students who live in apartments or dorms with several other people. They often do not get their mail, or at least this piece of mail. The graduate, get a job and move away. Years later, usually while trying to renew their driver’s license they learn of the pending Massachusetts criminal case. These defaults are routinely removed and we go on to defend the case.
The Law Offices of Stephen Neyman has successfully removed and vacated defaults and warrants countless times. Call us at 617-263-6800 or email us if you have a pending Massachusetts criminal case.