Leonardo Angiulo: So, Someone You Care About Was Arrested Last Night
Monday, August 20, 2012
Let's first acknowledge that the fact that people don't disappear after being arrested is a testament to our country and the way our government is designed. In fact, one of the biggest issues in colonial America was the Crown's use of general warrants for the seizure of persons and property. In response to this exercise of tyranny, the constitutions of our federal and state governments were specifically drafted to prevent law enforcement from acting unilaterally. As outlined in the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, Article Fourteen of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights and as explained in Jenkins v. Chief Justice of the District Court Department, 416 Mass. 221 (1993), the theory was that oversight of law enforcement by a neutral judiciary creates a balance of power preventing unjustified intrusions on individual liberty.
Now, what this means in practice is that if you get arrested, law enforcement has to make sure you see a magistrate promptly. If you are arrested in the evening or on a weekend, there are clerk magistrates and assistant clerk magistrates that will respond to phone calls from police departments to appear, review the determination of probable cause to arrest and sometimes set bails. While the question of bail has been addressed in another column, I want to clarify that sometimes people do not have the opportunity to make bail. This can occur because a phone call to friends or family doesn't get through until the next morning. Sometimes this will occur because the place where a person gets arrested is too far from home. Whatever the reason, have confidence in our system and know that a person who is arrested will be in court the next time it's open.
Naturally, the next question is what court to go to. To start, find out what town the person got arrested in. This is because the location of arrest defines which court has jurisdiction. A good place to find this information is www.mass.gov. You can literally type in the town's name and the word “courthouse” into the search engine. In no time at all, you will have the name of the courthouse, the phone number for the clerk's office and directions.
Once you get where you need to be, remember not to panic. The first step is to check in at the clerk's office to ensure you are in the right place, find out whether your person's arrest has been reported to the office, and to ask what room the arraignments are held in. In big courthouses like Worcester, this can be complicated. In smaller courts, there may be only one courtroom being used that day. Now matter how difficult this time may be emotionally, remember that when you enter a courthouse you are going into someone's place of business and being patient will make your experience a better one.
On arraignment day, there are many things that need to occur before a person is brought into a courtroom. This includes transportation from the relevant police department, generation of appropriate paperwork and availability of court personnel. All of this can take time, and for people waiting in the audience it can seem like an eternity. Try to keep in mind that, while the benches might be uncomfortable, we have the best designed systems of justice in the world. Even if you don't like how long it takes, you have to love the fact that it works every time.
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