Bench warrants are orders that are issued by a judge or “from the bench” that notify you that you failed to obey a court order and may give authority to law enforcement to arrest you, though they may not be arrest warrants. These are issued in circumstances where you:
- Failed to appear in court for an arraignment, trial, sentencing or any other court date where your appearance was required
- Failed to pay a court fine on time
- Failed to obey any other court order including completion or adhering to a provision of your probation
- Were indicted by a grand jury (bench warrant for arrest)
The main way that a bench warrant may be cleared or removed is by your personal appearance in court, by your attorney’s appearance on your behalf or by appearing with your attorney. If the warrant concerns a felony, your personal appearance to clear or remove it is required.
Anytime you do appear in court after a bench warrant has been issued, you are subject to the following:
- Release with a warning
- Incarceration with no bail
- Have bail set but incarcerated awaiting payment of a bond or full bail amount
If you are arrested by a peace officer, you must be taken before the judge who issued the warrant, though you may on request be brought before a judge in the county where you were arrested or in any court within the county in which the warrant was issued. If you missed a sentencing, you can only be brought before the sentencing judge.
Having your attorney appear with you is always recommended since this shows the court you are serious about failing to appear and your attorney can present arguments excusing your nonappearance or failure to comply with a court order by asking that you be released OR (own recognizance and without bail with a promise to appear at all future court dates), or that bail be set at a low amount since you do not pose a flight risk.
The main reasons for most persons failing to appear or comply are:
- The notice to appear was sent to the wrong address
- You moved before the notice to appear was mailed
- You completed all conditions of your probation and did not understand you still had to appear in court
- You missed a drug test because of illness, accident or some other reason (provide a medical note or accident report)
- You were not aware that charges had been filed against you or thought they had been dismissed
Warrants for felony matters can be served on the defendant at any time. For misdemeanors, the bench warrant may only be served between 6 am and 10 pm, absent special circumstances such as repeated failures to appear or if there are several outstanding warrants.
If a misdemeanor warrant is served outside of these restrictions, you may make a motion to dismiss it.
The most common reasons judges issues bench warrants is for defendants who fail to appear (FTA) at their scheduled court date pursuant to a notice to appear or a verbal order to appear as issued by a judge, though a clerk will generally give you a copy of court papers with the scheduled date on it.
Other FTA examples are:
- defendants who fail to appear in court to show proof of completion of a court-ordered program
- failure to appear for review of a progress report such as for drug court
- witnesses who fail to appear at trial or hearing pursuant to a subpoena to appear
- persons summoned to jury duty who fail to show up
For these individuals, their failure to remove the warrant may lead to the judge issuing a bench warrant unless the matter is one of urgency so that an arrest warrant may be issued.
On rare occasions, a clerk either fails to notify a particular agency to enter the details of the warrant into the National Crime Information Center or the agency neglects to do so. If you are arrested or detained by a bondsman pursuant to a bench warrant issued because you failed to appear on a scheduled court date and police release you because the warrant cannot be found in the database, the court cannot forfeit the bond that was posted by you or on your behalf. This should, however, alert you to contact an attorney before another bench warrant is issued or the original one is entered in the database.
On a misdemeanor case where no bail was set, your failure to appear for arraignment, pretrial conference, trial or sentencing can result in your being charged with another misdemeanor pursuant to Penal Code Section 1320 (Failure to Appear). You can be charged so long as you made no attempt to appear within 14 days of your court appearance date.
The penalty for violating this section is a maximum fine of $1000 and no more than 6-months in county jail.
If the bench warrant was issued pursuant to a felony and you were released on OR, the violation is also under PC 1320 except the fine is no less than $5000 along with possible county jail or state prison time. If you did post bail, the fine increases to a minimum of $10,000 with county jail or state prison time of 16 months, 2, 3 or 4 years.
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Failing to pay a fine or restitution to a victim is another reason for a bench warrant to issue. If you can show that you lacked the financial resources to pay, the judge cannot jail you. If possible, have an attorney represent you or at least suggest a means for how the fine or restitution may be paid. Community service may be substituted in some cases in lieu of a fine. If you miss a deadline on paying a fine or restitution, do not ignore it. Should you know that you will be unable to make a deadline, consult with an attorney before the deadline passes.
Bench warrants will also issue for defendants who fail to complete a condition of their probation or parole, such as completing a DUI program or reporting for mandatory drug testing. This is a probation or parole violation. Unless you have a valid excuse, you will likely go to jail or state prison depending on the underlying offense or nature of the violation.
If a bench warrant has been issued and no bail has yet been set, the peace officer who arrested you or who had been investigating the underlying case against you can ask the court to set bail at a high amount, particularly if the offense is against a person that you have threatened or assaulted. If you are not present in court, an arrest warrant can be issued. Otherwise, you will be incarcerated until you can post bail.
Do not allow yourself to be arrested or incarcerated because you missed a court date or allegedly violated a court order or condition of probation. Contact an attorney at the Aikman Law Firm to discuss your options and have us represent you. In many of these cases, we can clear or remove the bench warrant without adverse consequences to you.
We have recalled hundreds of warrants for our clients and we can do the same for you. If you need to have a bench warrant recalled contact the Aizman Law Firm for a free confidential consultation at 818-351-9555.