What Is a Bench Warrant?

Where You Need a Lawyer:

(This may not be the same place you live)

At No Cost! 

 What Is a Bench Warrant?

The word warrant refers to an order that permits law enforcement to take a specific action. There are multiple kinds of warrants, such as search warrants, arrest warrants, and bench warrants. A bench warrant is not used to arrest a person accused of a crime but rather a person accused of disobeying a rule of the court. Typically, a judge will administer a bench warrant while the court is in session without any law enforcement prodding them.

The name bench warrant comes from the reality that the judge is issuing the warrant from the courtroom bench for violating the court’s rules. In a bench warrant, the judge permits law enforcement the authority to make an arrest from the bench and not from the judge’s chambers. A bench warrant is generally administered for failure to appear in court or for jury duty.

Further, a bench warrant may be either a criminal or a civil warrant. It is critical to mention that a bench warrant is only used to arrest a person for contempt, whereas an arrest warrant is administered to arrest a person suspected of a crime.

If a defendant fails to appear at their court hearing, the judge will likely find them in contempt of court. Contempt of court is defined as any willful insubordination or disregard of a court order and includes misconduct in the court’s presence. It also consists of any action interfering with a judge’s ability to administer justice or behavior that insults the court.

How Is a Bench Warrant Issued? Is a Bench Warrant Only Used for Criminal Cases?

Once a person is in contempt of court, and before the judge issues the bench warrant, the judge will mention the reason or reasons why the individual is being held in contempt of court. As previously noted, failing to appear in court is not the only reason a bench warrant may be issued.

A bench warrant may also be disseminated for the following causes:

  • Failure to appear for jury duty;
  • Failure to appear in court to testify after being subpoenaed to do so;
  • Failure to observe a restraining order;
  • Denial of child visitation rights; and
  • Failure to make child support payments according to a court ruling.

A judge may administer either a civil or a criminal bench warrant. A civil bench warrant may be allocated for someone who has defaulted on a judgment.

Other reasons for the issuing of a bench warrant may include but not be limited to:

  • Failing to pay obligatory fines;
  • Breaking probation requirements;
  • Failing to appear for a court-ordered educational program;
  • Committing a crime while out on bail; and
  • Otherwise failing to comply with the conditions of bail.

What Is an Arrest Warrant?

By contrast, a police officer starts the arrest warrant process by filing a statement with the judge that describes why the officer believes that the individual named has committed a crime (in legalese, the officer is establishing “probable cause” to arrest the individual). If persuaded, the judge signs the warrant, and the police can make the arrest. This procedure doesn’t direct police officers to head to court for arrest warrants for every criminal activity they see. Many jurisdictions permit officers to call the on-duty magistrate to solicit a warrant, and many arrests do not need a warrant at all.

The most standard use of an arrest warrant is when an officer wants to arrest someone in their residence. Merely breaking down the suspect’s front door in such a non-emergency condition would be neither mannerly nor permitted.

What Transpires After a Judge Administers a Bench Warrant?

Following the issuance of a bench warrant, the police or local law enforcement treat it the same as an arrest warrant; they will try to hunt you down and arrest you, bringing you to court to face your charges.

Hanging on the workload of the police where you live, this procedure may happen fast, such as within 24 hours, or it could take days, weeks, or months. But, as long as you have a bench warrant out, you can anticipate each day could be the day you are apprehended.

What Occurs After a Person Is Arrested Through a Bench Warrant? Are There Any Defenses to Being Held in Contempt of Court?

Once the individual for whom the warrant was issued has been arrested, the court case moves like any other. The defendant will need to establish that they are not in contempt of court. When failure to appear in court is concerned, the judge may dismiss the case under specific occurrences. An illustration of this would be a person involved in a case with another party who misses their appointed court date. The judge may discharge the case or automatically rule in favor of the other party.

All defendants must be provided appropriate notice of their court dates and hearings. This could be through certified mail or in-hand delivery by a process server. If the court decides that a person obtained proper notice of their court date and deliberately did not appear, they may face charges of failure to appear.

As noted overhead, one such charge for failure to appear is being held in contempt of court. At the hearing for failure to appear charges, the defendant will have the chance to demonstrate to the judge why they did not appear or otherwise deliver their proof that they were not in contempt of court.

One standard defense is to show they were not in court because of unexpected events.

Some valid reasons for not appearing in court could include:

  • Being entangled in a car crash while on the way to court;
  • Not having appropriate notice of the court date;
  • The defendant has another previously planned court appearance;
  • The defendant fell extremely ill;
  • A natural disaster happened, such as a hurricane, tornado, earthquake, etc.; or
  • A death in the family.

What Are the Consequences of Ignoring a Bench Warrant?

There are severe consequences that you may encounter if you ignore a bench warrant and fail to take the necessary steps:

  • You could be taken into custody if your bench warrant remains active.
  • You may be detained at a cellblock.
  • You will be discharged from custody if you or another person can pay the bond.

You may be presented to a judge if you cannot pay the bond. In this case, the judge may potentially do one of the following:

  • The judge will dismiss you and set a new court date.
  • The judge will keep you in custody or instantly hold a hearing.

Do I Need an Attorney For a Bench Warrant?

A bench warrant could lead to your forthcoming arrest, so you must take the required steps to fix it. You must take prompt efforts to stop or minimize its adverse impacts on your personal and professional life.

You can deal with the judge or county office on your own. However, it’s a bright idea for you to request the help of a lawyer near you who can manage the bench warrant removal process in a more skilled, efficient way.

If you face a bench warrant, you must contact a skilled and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can help you comprehend the charges against you, as well as your rights and any defenses that may be open to you based on the specifics of your case. Further, the attorney will represent you in court as needed.

Save Time and Money - Speak With a Lawyer Right Away

  • Buy one 30-minute consultation call or subscribe for unlimited calls
  • Subscription includes access to unlimited consultation calls at a reduced price
  • Receive quick expert feedback or review your DIY legal documents
  • Have peace of mind without a long wait or industry standard retainer
  • Get the right guidance - Schedule a call with a lawyer today!

16 people have successfully posted their cases

Find a Lawyer