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Getting Your Bench Warrant Lifted

A bench warrant is an order issued by a judge that gives law enforcement personnel authority to arrest an individual and bring him to court. The term derives from the common practice of issuing this type of warrant during proceedings, while the judge is sitting “on the bench” in the courtroom. Typically, a bench warrant is issued for individuals when they fail to appear in court to respond to criminal charges. In other cases, a bench warrant is issued for failure to comply with a court order, such as paying child support, violating a restraining order, violating probation or parole, or failing to come to court to testify in a case in which an individual was subpoenaed as a witness.

The Difference Between a Bench Warrant and an Arrest Warrant

Both bench warrants and arrest warrants authorize law enforcement to place the subject under arrest and bring him to court to face charges.  Typically, a bench warrant is issued for individuals when they fail to appear in court to respond to a summons, which is an order from a judge, issued at the inception of a criminal matter, to appear in court, on a specific day and time, to be apprised of, and answer for, criminal charges against them. Criminal defendants are required to act as instructed in a summons, and failure to do so will usually result in a bench warrant being issued against them.

With bench warrants, a judge has sole authority over the bench warrant process from beginning to end. By contrast, with regard to an arrest warrant, the process is initiated by a law enforcement officer who presents a statement to a judge, giving reasons justifying the arrest of an individual who is suspected of having committed a crime. This may include, for instance, presenting to the judge video or pictographic evidence, showing the person committing a crime.T his statement must demonstrate reasonable grounds to believe that a crime has been committed, which is known as a showing of “probable cause” to carry out an arrest. If the judge believes there is probable cause, she signs the warrant, and the police can make the arrest.

If you have an outstanding bench warrant, any law enforcement officer can arrest you and bring you before a judge at any time. Although police will not typically seek you out in response to a bench warrant, your name will be entered into a database that law enforcement agencies have access to. Therefore, any encounter with a police officer can result in your arrest. So, during a simple traffic stop, such as for a moving violation, like exceeding the speed limit, the officer who stops you will check your name in the database, which collects pertinent information from the courts, and will identify any outstanding bench warrants.The officer then has the authority to arrest you immediately and detain you for court. You may also be arrested, if you are involved in a car accident and police respond on the scene, and they run your name through their database, and identify your outstanding bench warrant.

What Do I Do If I Find Out That I Have an Outstanding Bench Warrant?

To remove an outstanding bench warrant, you must turn yourself in to the court (specifically, the Sheriff’s Department located in the courthouse). At that point, the court must    schedule a bench warrant hearing within 72 hours. At the hearing, the judge will remove the warrant and then determine whether to alter the original bail conditions. Based on the circumstances for the failure to appear, the judge may reinstate, revoke, or increase the bail amount. If the District Attorney seeks to pursue contempt charges, the court will also schedule a separate hearing on that issue.

Once a warrant has been lifted, the court will reschedule the meeting that the defendant initially missed. For instance, if you missed your preliminary hearing, the judge will reschedule it for another date. In some rare cases, the court will hold a hearing or trial in the defendant’s absence, but only if it determines that he or she willfully failed to appear.

Defendants who have had a bench warrant issued against them are strongly urged to voluntarily turn themselves in and to retain an attorney for the subsequent hearing, in order to avoid the more severe penalties. An experienced criminal defense attorney can review your case and your summons, and prepare an argument to a judge for why you failed to appear and state the reasons that the judge should lift the warrant. Those who fail to turn themselves face the virtual certainty of arrest and detention at a correctional facility where they must wait until they can appear before a judge.

If you have an outstanding bench warrant or you know that you have missed a court hearing, please contact the attorneys at Tanner Law Offices at 717-836-0471 to schedule a consultation to discuss your case.