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Massachusetts police are authorized to arrest a criminal suspect either (1) pursuant to an arrest warrant issued by a court with jurisdiction over the matter, or (2) without a warrant provided certain factors exist at the time of arrest.

Arrest Warrants

Police may obtain an arrest warrant pursuant to M.G.L. c. 276, § 22 which states,

Upon complaint made to any justice that a crime has been committed, he shall examine on oath the complainant and any witnesses produced by him, reduce the complaint to writing, and cause it to be subscribed by the complainant, and, if it appears that a crime has been committed, shall issue a summons or warrant in compliance with the provisions of the Massachusetts Rules of Criminal Procedure.

The applicable portion of the Massachusetts Rules of Criminal Procedure is Rule 6. This rule further states that,

The District Court may authorize the issuance of a warrant in any case except where the accused is a juvenile less than twelve years of age. Upon the return of an indictment against a defendant, the Superior Court may authorize the issuance of a warrant. The decision to issue a warrant may be based upon the representation of a prosecutor made to the court that the defendant may not appear unless arrested. If a defendant fails to appear in response to a summons or for any reason is not amenable to service, the prosecutor may request that a warrant issue or may resummon the defendant.

However, the vast majority of criminal arrests in Massachusetts are made without such a warrant.

Warrantless Arrest

Police may make a warrantless arrest for any suspected felony. Additionally, the police can arrest a criminal suspect for a misdemeanor if the following conditions exist:

  • the misdemeanor involved a breach of the peace;
  • It was committed in the officer’s presence or view; and
  • It was continuing at the time the police effected the arrest.

See Commonwealth v. Mekalian, 346 Mass. 496 (1963) and Commonwealth v. Gorman, 288 Mass. 294 (1934).

The legislature, in M.G.L. c. 276, § 28, has also authorized police to make a warrantless arrest for specific types of misdemeanors. These include, but are not limited to, (1) larceny in the officer’s presence, (2) violations of protective court orders (restraining orders, no-contacts, etc.), and (3) assault and battery against a family or household member.