The Complete Guide To Getting Your Bench Warrant Cleared

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:

  1. Failed to appear in court for an arraignment, trial, sentencing or any other court date where your appearance was required
  2. Failed to pay a court fine on time
  3. Failed to obey any other court order including completion or adhering to a provision of your probation
  4. Were indicted by a grand jury (bench warrant for arrest)

How To Remove A Bench Warrant

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.

Other ways are having the warrant dismissed because it was improperly served (misdemeanors) or because it was never entered into the National Crime Information Center.

Appearing In Court

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

Service Of The Warrant

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.

Failure To Appear In Court

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.

Dismissal Based On Failure To Enter Warrant In Database

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.

Penalties For Failure To Appear

Misdemeanor Failure To Appear Penalties

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(a)1 (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.

Felony Failure To Appear Penalties

If the bench warrant was issued pursuant to a felony and you were released on OR, the violation is also under PC 1320(b)2 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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Penalties For Other FTA Violations

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 violation 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 criminal defense attorney at the Aizman 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.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you go to jail for failure to appear in court?

Yes, if you are given a citation where it stated you were to appear in court at a certain place, date and time, and you failed to do so, you will likely go to jail. If you were previously arrested and given a court date and failed to appear, the court will issue a bench warrant for your arrest and you will be brought to jail. You can try to avoid jail by retaining a defense lawyer who can appear in court on your behalf to have the warrant recalled, or to have bail set so that it and other conditions imposed can be met. 

What happens at a hearing for a bench warrant?

If the defendant or person required to appear in court on that date and time fails to appear, then a brief hearing will be held before the judge, prosecutor and possibly the defendant’s attorney, if one has been retained . Absent a compelling reason given by the defendant’s attorney, the court will issue a bench warrant for the defendant’s arrest. If you are arrested and in custody, you will appear in court within 24-72-hours where a judge will determine your custody status and consider any arguments you may have as to why you failed to appear. 

How long do you go to jail for failure to appear in court?

If arrested on an warrant for failure to appear in court, you will not be released on your own recognizance, in most cases A bail hearing is scheduled from 24-hours to 72-hours after your arrest at which time bail is typically imposed.

What states extradite warrants?

All states, except Missouri and South Carolina, have adopted the Uniform Criminal Extradition Act, which permits states to arrest someone wanted in another state for a felony or serious sex offense. For lesser offenses such as misdemeanors, a state where the defendant is wanted will often decline to expend its resources to arrest and extradite the fugitive. 

Do warrants show up on a background check?

Yes, you can call the court or go online to find out if a warrant has been issued against you. You can also call the appropriate city, county or state offices where the warrant may have issued, or a criminal defense attorney, or a bail bondsman. If you go online, there are public records websites and a national website: GovernmentRegistry.org., where you can search nationwide for outstanding warrants. 

What happens when a warrant is issued?

If police have probable cause to arrest you, then it will go to a judge or magistrate and request a warrant for your arrest be issued, or a court will issue a warrant for your arrest from the bench if you fail to appear in court pursuant to a court order. The warrant  is entered onto a database so that officers in the field will either go to your home or place of business.  If the matter is not a particularly serious one or a misdemeanor, police will usually wait until you are stopped for a traffic violation or you are involved in some other matter where an official is able to access information on your status. 

Are bench warrants nationwide?

A bench warrant is not a criminal conviction but is part of the court record. So if you are detained for a traffic stop, or if someone conducts a search of nation-wide court records on you, it will appear on your record.

What is a no-bail warrant?

A no bail warrant means that no bail will be imposed on you as a condition of your release, primarily because you have a parole or probation violation, or an immigration hold has been placed on you. Also, if you have an outstanding warrant on another case, it will have to be cleared before bail can be set on the warrant for which you have just been arrested. 

Is failure to appear a conviction?

A failure to appear is a violation of a court order and not a conviction. However, it can be charged as a misdemeanor in California under Penal Code § 1320 if you were released on your own recognizance (ROR) and the underlying offense was a misdemeanor for which you were charged or convicted. It can be charged as a felony if you were released  ROR or on bail and had been charged or convicted of a prior felony.

Is a bench warrant an outstanding warrant?

Yes, if the defendant or person named in the warrant has not been brought into custody, then the warrant is outstanding. It remains so until the defendant has been arrested and is in custody or the issuing judge or court recalls or lifts the warrant. 

Do failure-to-appear warrants expire?

A warrant issued for a failure to appear does not expire until the issuing judge lifts it, quashes it, or recalls it, or the defendant is placed into custody, or dies. 

Can you pay to have a bench warrant lifted?

If you are aware that a bench warrant is outstanding, you can call or appear before a court clerk or local police department to arrange to pay bail so that the warrant will be lifted, unless it is a no-bail warrant. If a fine was involved, you will likely have to pay the fine in full as well as the bail or make arrangements to make installment payments for the fine if the court permits it. 

Can you post bail on a bench warrant?

Unless it is a no-bail warrant, you will have to post bail before the bench warrant will be lifted. 

What is a warrant hearing?

If you are brought into custody on an outstanding warrant or voluntarily schedule a court appearance on your failure to appear, you can present defenses before the court as to why you failed to appear. The judge will determine your custody status by either allowing you to proceed with future court appearances without imposing bail or the judge may decide to impose bail, or refuse bail because of the severity of your underlying criminal offense. 

Can a felony warrant be dropped?

 A felony warrant can be dropped only by the issuing judge and usually only after you have appeared in court with your attorney. 

Can you board an airplane with an outstanding misdemeanor warrant?

It is unlikely that an airline agent or police officer will discover that you have an outstanding misdemeanor warrant if you are flying domestic, unless there is an immigration hold on you or you are flying on an international flight. However, if airline security or any airline official asks you if you have any outstanding warrants and your answer is “no,” this is a criminal offense. 

Can a bail bondsman find out if you have an outstanding warrant?

Yes, bondsmen generally have access to databases, local and national, where they can advise you of any outstanding warrants.

What happens if I turn myself in for a bench warrant?

If you wish to turn yourself in to a police department or before a court clerk, it is advised that you first find out if bail has been set or consider retaining a defense attorney to have bail set for you, or who can appear in court for you to request that the warrant be recalled. Otherwise, you risk being arrested and detained in jail until the next available court appearance, generally scheduled in 24-72 hours, where you will appear before a judge to determine your custody status and whether bail will be set and in what amount. 

How We Can Help

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.

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Footnotes

  1. California Penal Code Section 1320(a) – Every person who is charged with or convicted of the commission of a misdemeanor who is released from custody on his or her own recognizance and who in order to evade the process of the court willfully fails to appear as required, is guilty of a misdemeanor. It shall be presumed that a defendant who willfully fails to appear within 14 days of the date assigned for his or her appearance intended to evade the process of the court. []
  2. California Penal Code1320(b) PC- Every person who is charged with or convicted of the commission of a felony who is released from custody on his or her own recognizance and who in order to evade the process of the court willfully fails to appear as required, is guilty of a felony, and upon conviction shall be punished by a fine not exceeding five thousand dollars ($5,000) or by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170, or in the county jail for not more than one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment. It shall be presumed that a defendant who willfully fails to appear within 14 days of the date assigned for his or her appearance intended to evade the process of the court. []

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