A capias (Latin for “that you take”) is an order from the court directing law enforcement to arrest a defendant in a civil lawsuit for the defendant’s failure to appear.

When a debtor loses a lawsuit—whether by trial or default—the successful creditor will file paperwork to being “supplementary proceedings.”  These proceedings (regulated by M.G.L. c. 224) are used to determine how and when the debtor should make payments to the creditor. 

If the debtor, without good cause, fails to appear at these hearings, the creditor can ask the court to hold the debtor in contempt and issue a warrant for his arrest. 

According to M.G.L. c. 224, § 18,

The court may issue warrants for arrest and other processes to secure the attendance of debtors or creditors to answer for any contempt under this chapter. 

Debtors arrested pursuant to such an order are entitled to a “speedy” hearing.  However, if necessary, a short period of detainment is permitted:

A debtor arrested on a capias after court has adjourned may be lodged with the keeper of the lock-up in the city or town in which he is arrested, or lodged with the keeper of the common jail. Said keeper shall receive the debtor from the arresting officer and hold the debtor until the next sitting of the court issuing the capias, at which time the officer shall call for the debtor and take him before the court.

Many courts will not issue a capias unless the debtor received in-hand notice of the proceedings.  In such circumstances, the creditor must reschedule the supplementary hearing and resend a summons to the debtor; this time with the summons being served on the debtor in-hand.