There are different types of warrants that are issued by judges in the criminal justice system. The bench warrant is issued with a good deal of frequency by judges. A bench warrant typically is issued when a criminal defendant fails to appear at a scheduled court proceeding.
A bench warrant is an order from the court directing law enforcement officials to bring a criminal defendant "to the bench" or to the court with all deliberate speed. Although some warrants have bond amounts attached to them, bench warrants do not. In other words, unlike some other types of warrants for which a defendant can post bond and be released from custody, there is no bond associated with a bench warrant because the defendant must be brought in person before the court.
In addition to directing that a criminal defendant be arrested, the judge can impose other penalties or punishments on a defendant when issuing a bench warrant.
Revocation of Bail
One of the most common penalties that a judge imposes when she issues a bench warranty is a revocation and forfeiture of bail previously paid by a criminal defendant. In many criminal cases, a defendant has to post bail with the court in order to be released from jail while his case is pending.
Once that defendant fails to make a required court appearance, a judge typically will take two steps: issue a bench warrant for arrest and order the forfeiture of the bail. If a defendant does promptly appear in court in the immediate aftermath of the court issuing a bench warrant (and before the defendant is arrested by law enforcement) a judge may consider withdrawing the decision forfeiting the bail. There are instances in which a defendant is justified in missing a court proceeding due to an emergency or similar circumstance.
Another common penalty that a court imposes when it issues a bench warrant is the incarceration of the defendant. Once the defendant is arrested pursuant to the bench warrant and brought before the court, the judge issues an order confining the defendant to jail or a detention center for the remainder of the proceedings.
A judge makes the decision to lock up the defendant because he demonstrated his propensity for not appearing in court. One of the reasons that bail can be denied is if the court concludes that the defendant is a flight risk and will not appear for future court proceedings.
In considering the penalties a court imposes with a bench warrant, judges oftentimes will increase the amount of bail to allow a defendant's release from confinement. In other words, because the defendant failed to appear in court as required, that individual will have to post additional money as bond in order to be freed from jail during the time his case is pending.
In imposing a punishment in connection with a bench warrant, the judge not only wants to penalize the defendant for failing to appear in court but wants to take an additional action to better ensure the defendant's future appearances. Therefore, another regularly utilized penalty associated with a bench warrant is ordering the defendant to be placed on home confinement.
When on home confinement, a defendant typically must remain in his residence at all times except when working, when attending appointments associated with his case and to attend a weekly religious service.
Related to home confinement, a penalty that a court can utilize after issuing a bench warrant is placing the defendant on electronic monitoring. Not only is the defendant obliged to remain at home except when at approved activities away from the residence, he will be provided with an electronic device that monitors his whereabouts all of the time.
Placement in Halfway House
Finally, in light of the issuance of a bench warrant, the court also has the ability to assign the defendant to a halfway house as a penalty for failing to appear in court. While most people in halfway houses are individuals who are serving sentences after a conviction, halfway houses are also utilized for defendants with pending cases in certain circumstances, including instances in which a defendant failed to appear in court.
- Criminal Procedure, Joel Samaha, 2007
- Cornell Law School, Criminal Procedure: An Overview
- Cornell Law School, Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure
- DB King, Everystockphoto.com