People often don’t understand what body attachments are. A writ of bodily attachment is an archaic concept rooted in old English common law. However, it’s important to know what to do if you have a body attachment warrant in Maryland and its potential impact on your life and liberty.
Baltimore criminal defense attorney Randolph Rice explains body attachment warrants as they are defined in Maryland and what to do if you have one.
What Are Body Attachment Warrants?
Body attachment warrants are writs of attachment. A “writ’ is a command to a court. It’s a formal order from a judicial body. A writ allows a law enforcement agency to carry out an act, usually to arrest or to detail a person. Body attachment warrants for contempt of court are also known as “civil arrests” because the subject of the warrant is detained even though no criminal charges are brought.
Body attachment warrants can be issued against people who fail to pay child support or alimony to an ex-spouse. The use of body attachments to imprison people who fail to pay debts is controversial but it happens in Maryland. The courts often use body attachments against people who fail to show up at hearings. They are usually used for non-payment of child support or alimony. Witnesses who skip hearings can also face body attachments.
What Happens When You Have a Body Attachment Warrant in Maryland?
According to Maryland law, someone who is arrested and taken into custody on a body warrant must be quickly brought before the judicial officer named on the warrant.
If a body attachment is not specific about what should happen with the person named on the warrant, the subject will be brought “without unnecessary delay” in front of the judge who issued the attachment. When a court is not sitting, the person named in the body attachment will appear at the next session of the court. When the judge who issued the body attachment is unavailable, the subject of the warrant will be brought before another judge.
The judge will consider how eligible the person is to be released. The judge will establish any conditions of release, and direct how the person who is in contempt of court should be brought before the judge who issued the attachment in the first place.
What Are Federal Body Attachment Warrants?
A federal court can order a writ of body attachment to direct the U.S. Marshals Service to bring the subject of a civil contempt order before a federal court. A body warrant may be served anywhere in the United States. If the body warrant does not relate to the enforcement of federal law, it can only be served within the state a district court is located or at any place outside the state that’s within 100 miles of the courthouse.
Federal body attachments are issued by order of a federal district court judge, a U.S. magistrate judge, or a federal bankruptcy judge. A body warrant allows the U.S. Marshals Service to bring the person named in the warrant, called the contemnor into federal custody and before the court as soon as possible.
What to Do if You Are Debtor with a Body Attachment Warrant in Maryland?
Debtors prisons have been illegal in the United States since the mid 19th Century. However, body attachment warrants can result in the arrest of debtors. This is a highly controversial practice that many people who owe money are unaware of. Consumer advocates in Maryland are fighting the imprisonment of debtors.
The Maryland Constitution states “no person shall be imprisoned for debt.” The Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition points to the wording of the constitution and a body of case law to argue nobody should be jailed for contempt of court over the non-payment of debt.
These apparent safeguards do not protect dozens of people who Maryland courts lock up every year for nonpayment of debt. Maryland courts issued over 1,800 body attachment warrants in 2012, the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition stated. This is a large number. However, only a small number of body warrants send the subject to jail.
The coalition noted 39 residents of Maryland spent 1-14 days locked up for unpaid debts over the course of 2012. It said 27 of them were imprisoned in Baltimore County.
Some creditors use body attachments to make a debtor pay up. The creditor can request a court order for the debtor to appear for an oral examination. if the debtor fails to appear he or she may be asked to explain why they failed to appear at the oral exam at a subsequent court hearing.
A second hearing can result in the issuing of a body attachment for failure to obey a court order, meaning the debtor is in contempt of court. As the statistics show, courts don’t resort to body attachments for all debtors who fail to comply with court orders. The Coalition said a creditor must request the issuing of a body attachment warrant for the court to take action.
A minority of creditors use the process. Although the number of people actually arrested for a body attachment is a small proportion of debtors, ending up in jail can negatively affect your life.
Fighting a Body Attachment Warrant in Maryland
If you are the subject of a body attachment warrant in Maryland, you may be able to remove it. You can contact the clerk of the court where it was issued and pay an outstanding debt. The court can give you a receipt and advise you on how to remove the body attachment. Courts in Maryland have jurisdiction to terminate, modify, withdraw or vacate any writ.
It often makes sense to hire an attorney to help you and to remove the prospects of potential arrest and imprisonment. At Rice, Murtha & Psoras, your lawyers will advise you how you can fight a body attachment warrant in Maryland.
Maryland Body Attachment Defense Attorney Offering Free Consultations
The concept of a body attachment warrant goes back centuries. Many people who receive one don’t understand them. People who face arrest for civil matters like nonpayment of child support are often horrified to realize they face possible incarceration. The dedicated team of Maryland criminal defense lawyers at Rice, Murtha & Psoras can help you if you have been hit by a body attachment warrant in Maryland, advise you of your rights and take on your case. The first thing to do if you have a body attachment warrant in Maryland is don’t panic. The prudent second thing to do is to pick up the phone and talk to an attorney. Please call us for a free consultation at (410) 834-1350.