What Is a Bench Warrant?

By Teo Spengler - Updated April 16, 2018
Wooden gavel on table. Attorney working in courtroom.

If a bench warrant is issued for you, it means that you were supposed to have "approached the bench" in a courtroom on a particular date, but you didn't show up. Your "date" with the court could have been about a criminal proceeding, a traffic ticket hearing or even a jury summons. Nobody likes being stood up, and judges can do something about it: The judge can issue a bench warrant that permits law enforcement to arrest you and bring you before the court.

Tip

A bench warrant is a type of arrest order issued by a judge against a person who fails to show up in court after being summoned.

What Is a Bench Warrant?

The business of a court is serious stuff, and an order to appear before a judge is not to be taken lightly. People accused of criminal behavior receive notices from the court to appear at hearings before the judge, including plea hearings when the defendant must enter a plea, bail hearings when bail is discussed, pretrial hearings and the trial itself. But even those with just traffic tickets get ordered to appear before the court on a particular date to respond to the charges. And citizens called to jury duty or to testify as a witness in a trial receive a court order called a subpoena telling them when to appear in court.

If you don't appear as ordered and you fail to make alternative arrangements with the court before the hearing date, the court is likely to issue a bench warrant. This order gives law enforcement the authority to arrest you on sight and bring you before the court to explain your failure to appear. If you are stopped for a broken tail light, the officer can run your name, discover the warrant and arrest you then and there. You may be held in jail until the court schedules a time for you to appear.

What Is a Bench Warrant Felony?

There is really no legal animal called a bench warrant felony. However, if a person is ordered to appear in court to answer to a felony charge and doesn't show up, the bench warrant issued may specify that the matter was a felony.

Many states issue two types of bench warrants. One is called a bond warrant. With this warrant, you can avoid getting sent to jail by posting a bond guaranteeing your appearance at a subsequent court hearing. These are usually used in traffic tickets and similar matters. The other type is a no-bond bench warrant, used for defendants who fail to appear on felony charges or in other serious matters. With this warrant, the person stays in jail until called before the court.

How Bench Warrants Work in Different States

State rules on bench warrants differ, so it's important to learn the particulars about warrants in your state if the court issues a bench warrant for you. You can usually be arrested on a bench warrant even if you are out of state. This is the case in Pennsylvania, for instance.

In San Diego Superior Court in California, the court can issue a bench warrant for failure to appear at a court hearing. But bench orders are also authorized for people who miss dates at treatment programs, mandated volunteer work, community service or who violate child custody orders. In addition to arrest, the warrant results in a hold on your driver's license.

In Utah, failure to appear for a traffic ticket also results in a driver's license hold. In this state, you must call to reschedule the hearing in advance. If you wait until the day of the hearing, it will not prevent the issuance of a bench warrant. Failing to appear as ordered can land you with a fine. In addition, the prosecutor can file a separate criminal charge – Failure to Appear (a Class B Misdemeanor), even if you are found innocent of the original offense.

About the Author

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.

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