Like rattlesnakes, warrants are a dangerous thing to collect. They may not rear up and bite you today, but they likely will one day. If you are aware that a bench or arrest warrant has been issued for you, being proactive pays off. By jumping through the right hoops, you may be able to clear up your warrant without having to spend any time at all in jail.
A Bench Warrant vs. an Arrest Warrant
A judge issues an order called a bench warrant when someone disobeys a court order. You don't have to be on trial to have a bench warrant issued. You may have been ordered to appear in traffic court, to testify as a witness in someone else's case, to appear for jury duty or to pay child support. The judge issues the bench warrant to get you into court to clear up the matter. You can be arrested if stopped for something else and are sometimes held in jail until a court hearing is arranged to deal with the matter.
A bench warrant is a different creature from an arrest warrant. If the police have evidence that you committed a crime, an officer requests the court to issue a warrant for your arrest. You are held until the arraignment or a release hearing occurs. If you suspect an arrest warrant has been issued for you, hire an attorney to help you navigate the matter.
Dealing with a Bench Warrant
If you suspect that a court has issued a bench warrant for you, act. You should receive a copy of the warrant in the mail, but if the court has the wrong address, or you moved, or your roommate threw it away, you may not get the information you need. The worst thing you can do is nothing. If you do not address the warrant, you will have to worry constantly that you may suddenly be taken to jail.
Find out whether there is a bench warrant out for you. How? Call the court you suspect issued the warrant and ask the clerk about it. See if you can schedule a hearing to take care of the matter. If you were supposed to appear for a traffic ticket, ask if you can reschedule or simply pay the fines. The clerk will lay out your options. Pick one and follow through. You don't want to spend the rest of your life worrying about being arrested.
Read More: Bench Warrant Penalties
Expiration Dates of Warrants
Whether warrants expire is an issue that varies from state to state. In some states, misdemeanor warrants expire 180 days after entry, but they can be renewed on demand. Usually, more serious arrest warrants (for instance, felony warrants) do not expire. They can result in your arrest weeks, months, years or decades after they are issued.
A court issues a bench warrant if you fail to obey a court order, like the order to attend a hearing, pay fines, or appear for jury duty. But if you take care of the situation for which the warrant was issued, the court may cancel the warrant. This can be as simple as paying off a traffic ticket fine.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.