Massachusetts SJC Holds That A Violation While “On Release” Constitutes A Revocation Of Bail

In a recent Massachusetts SJC decision, Commonwealth v. Morales, the Court confirmed its authority to revoke a defendant’s bail after being out “on release” and had defaulted by not appearing to his pretrial hearing and subsequently committed a new crime. The decision essentially means that when a defendant has a bail set to insure his appearance at a hearing, he is conditionally out “on release”. If the conditions are violated and he is not in custody after defaulting, he is still considered “on release” and therefore bail may be revoked.

The case arose out of Boston Municipal Court, where the trial judge decided that because the defendant defaulted, he was no longer “on release” within the meaning of G. L. c. 276, § 58, and therefore his bail could not be revoked. In August 2014, the defendant was arraigned in the Boston Municipal court on the charge of larceny of property over $250. The defendant was put on notice for bail revocation and was released on personal recognizance. At the subsequent pretrial hearing, the defendant failed to appear and a default warrant was issued. By April 2015, the warrant was still outstanding when the defendant committed a new crime of assault and battery of a family or household member.

During the defendant’s arraignment hearing for the new charge, the Commonwealth filed a motion to revoke the defendant’s bail or recognizance in the larceny matter and also requested bail in the new assault and battery matter. A judge from Boston Municipal Court denied the motion, reasoning that because he defaulted in the prior larceny matter he was no longer “on release” within the meaning of G. L. c. 276, § 58, sixth par. The Commonwealth filed a petition to appeal from the denial of its motion to revoke the defendant’s bail.  The single justice reserved and reported the matter to the full court.  The Massachusetts SJC disagreed with the lower court and remanded the case to county court.

The Court’s reasoning was based on reviewing the relevant statute which related “to assure compliance… in the judicial process”. Paquette, 440 Mass. at 129. A defendant’s release was restricted to conditions where his liberty was not shared by the public generally and that if a defendant is charged with a crime while “on release”, his bail may be revoked. He is also required to appear at pretrial hearings with the statute criminalizing failure to appear without sufficient excuse. G. L. c. 276, § 58.

The Court further reasoned that the issuance of a default warrant for his failure to appear was another restraint on an already conditional release.  Thus, the issuance of the default warrant did not put an end to the defendant being “on release” for the purposes of § 58, and that so long as the defendant was not in custody after defaulting in the larceny matter, he was “on release.”

This decision is important for anyone who is awaiting a pretrial hearing and is out on bail or personal recognizance and may not realize their liberty is restricted which can be taken away if they commit a violation during that period.  When you are faced with a serious criminal charge, bail can be an issued at your first court date called the Arraignment.  To learn more about the Court process for Criminal Cases, you can visit my Website.

To Read a related case on this case, visit this link from Justia.com.  To see how the Morales case was argued in the SJC and read the decision you can find it on the Suffolk Law School Website.

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