When someone is charged with a crime in Massachusetts, the court issues a warning that states if the defendant is charged with a new offense, that person’s release or bail may be revoked for up to 90 days. In Commonwealth v. Morales(2016), the SJC reversed the denial of the Commonwealth’s motion to revoke the defendant’s bail, where that ruling was based on the judge’s erroneous belief that the defendant was no longer “on release” from bail. The background was as follows. “The defendant was arraigned in the Boston Municipal Court on the charge of larceny of property over $250…. The judge gave the defendant the bail revocation warning pursuant to the bail warning statute and released him on personal recognizance.” The warning informed the defendant that his bail could be revoked if he were charged with a new offense during his “release.” “At a subsequent pretrial hearing, the defendant failed to appear. The judge found him in default and issued a default warrant. That warrant was still outstanding when the defendant was charged with committing a new crime,” assault and battery of a family or household member. At the defendant’s arraignment on that charge, “the Commonwealth filed a motion to revoke the defendant’s bail or recognizance in the larceny matter. The Commonwealth also requested bail in the new assault and battery matter. A judge of the BMC denied the Commonwealth’s motion on the ground that the defendant was no longer subject to bail revocation under the bail revocation statute. . The judge reasoned that because the defendant defaulted in the prior larceny matter he was no longer ‘on release’ and, consequently, did not commit the new crime during the period of release. The judge did not take any action on the outstanding default warrant. In the new assault and battery matter, the judge set bail in the amount of $500 and imposed conditions on the defendant’s release.” Subsequently, the Commonwealth petitioned the single justice for relief from the denial of its motion to revoke the defendant’s bail. The single justice reserved and reported the matter to the full SJC.
In its decision, the SJC disagreed with the judge’s reasoning that the defendant was no longer “on release” (and, therefore, was not subject to bail revocation) “after he defaulted when he failed to appear at a pretrial hearing on his new charge and a default warrant for his arrest had been issued.” The Court opined that the judge’s “issuance of a default warrant … 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 the bail warning statute. We agree with the Commonwealth that so long as the defendant was not in custody after defaulting in the larceny matter, he was ‘on release,’” such that the judge had the authority to revoke the defendant’s bail.