What is a Body Attachment Warrant in Maryland?

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A body attachment warrant in Maryland sounds like an unusual term if you are unfamiliar with it. Like many legal terms, its origins go back hundreds of years. You are more likely to receive an arrest warrant than a body attachment warrant in Maryland but the courts still use body attachment warrants widely in Maryland, usually for non-payment of child support or alimony or after a witness fails to appear at a hearing. Debtors prison is illegal in the United States but body attachment warrants mean the courts lock up people who have unpaid debts.

The concept of body attachment can be traced back to Roman times. A debtor could be sold into slavery for defaulting on his obligations in the Roman Empire. Debt slavery endured in England in the Dark Ages, William & Mary Law Review notes. However, after the Norman Conquest of 1066, England’s new rulers discontinued the harsh practice. Instead, laws were enacted to allow the imprisonment of debtors via “body execution” writs.

The English law allowing body attachment warrants was exported to the Colonies. However, Constitutional changes in the United States meant body attachment warrants could no longer be used for debtors. They are still used to enforce areas like non-payment of child support or alimony. Baltimore criminal defense lawyer Randolph Rice explains the purpose of a body attachment warrant and how it works in Maryland.

How Do Body Attachment Warrants Work in Maryland?

Body attachment warrants are typically used for civil contempt. The court issues a writ of body attachment or bodily attachment that allows a law enforcement officer, a sheriff, or a deputy to bring the subject of the writ to the court for the issue to be resolved. The subject of the writ may be held in jail pending the resolution of the civil issue.

Can a Body Attachment Warrant be Issued for Unpaid Child Support in Maryland?

The case of United States v Phillips in 2016 considered whether the imprisonment of someone for civil contempt by failing to pay child support was constitutional. The United States Court of Appeals for the eleventh circuit considered whether the police can arrest someone who failed to pay child support based on a writ of body attachment.

Phillips argued a civil writ of bodily attachment was not the same as a criminal arrest warrant under the U.S. Constitution. The court disagreed. The justices said a writ of a body attachment for non-payment of child support was a warrant within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment and police legitimately arrested Phillips.

What Happens When You Are Arrested on a Body Attachment Warrant in Maryland?

People who are picked up on body attachment warrants often have no idea what’s happening or how long they will remain incarcerated. If the body attachment warrant has no specific instructions, the subject should be brought before a judicial officer of a district court in Maryland “without unnecessary delay.” The arrestee should appear before an officer within 24 hours of the arrest in the county where the arrest was made. If the court is not sitting when the arrest is made, the arrestee will be brought before the court at its next session.

It’s not necessary for the judge who made the original body attachment order to be sitting. The arrestee will appear before another judge who will determine realist and conditions for release.

When Can Body Attachment Warrants Be Issued in Maryland?

The violation of a civil court order triggers the issuing of a body attachment warrant in Maryland. It can be difficult to understand why police officers unexpectedly appeared at your door for a civil matter between two parties or unpaid debts. However, the failure to disobey a court order is seen as an offense against the court itself.

In practice, debtors can be arrested in Maryland for owing relatively small amounts of money if they fail to show up in court. The American Civil Liberties Union warned Maryland judges are routinely issuing warrants for people who often didn’t realize they were scheduled to appear in court. A Capital News Service article noted that while it has been illegal to jail someone for unpaid debt for two centuries in America, several hundred body attachments are issued every year in Maryland. As many as a fifth of all debt cases end up in arrests.

Typically, body attachment warrants are issued for one of the following;

  • Failing to obey a civil order
  • Not paying court-ordered child support
  • Failing to pay alimony to an ex-spouse
  • Failure to appear in a civil court as a witness or in another capacity.

Can You Challenge a Body Attachment Warrant in Maryland?

Recipients of body attachment warrants in Maryland you can seek recall of arrest. It’s advisable to hire a Maryland criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible to help you fight a warrant. Courts have even been sued over body attachment warrants, usually with little success.

In the case of Kendrick v. Cavanaugh, a lawyer sought to sue the former judge of the Orphans Court for Baltimore County over her imprisonment under a body attachment warrant. She claimed false imprisonment and violation of her Fourth Amendment rights. The attorney was found to be in contempt of court for failing to turn over an estate’s financial assets and records. The court held the judge could not be sued because she had immunity.

Lawyers to Defend Your Rights After a Body Attachment Warrant in Maryland

It’s shocking to be arrested under a body attachment warrant in Maryland. This comes out of the blue for many people. They have no idea they can be imprisoned for failing to pay child support, alimony, or another court matter. It’s important to hire a Maryland body attachment attorney as soon as possible to safeguard your rights.

At the Law Offices of Randolph Rice, we can advise you what to do if the police come to your home and arrest you. Call us for a free consultation as soon as possible at (410) 834-3740.


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