A capias warrant is a demand for either payment of fines owed or a court appearance. Sometimes called bench warrants, they're usually issued to a person who owes unpaid money following a civil court judgment or who fails to appear for a civil hearing. Capias differ from criminal arrest warrants because they don't charge you with a crime, but that doesn't mean you can't wind up in jail because of one.
Capias Warrants Can Result In Jail Time
With criminal arrest warrants, the police take a suspect into custody for possible prosecution, but capias warrants are commonly issued to get someone to comply with prior orders of civil courts. Although a capias warrant is generally not criminal in nature, someone picked up on this type of warrant may spend a brief time in jail until the court can address his refusal to do something he's been ordered to do. For example, if you agreed to pay a $1,000 fine instead of serving a 30-day jail sentence, failure to pay the fine on time could send you to jail for the 30 days or until a new review hearing where the judge may allow alternate payment arrangements, such as community service.
Capias Warrants for Unpaid Judgments
In some jurisdictions, courts may issue a capias warrant if someone fails to pay a civil judgment. If a person who has lost a case has the ability to pay the judgment but fails to do so, a court can issue a capias warrant to either force the person to pay or spend time in jail. In family law cases, such as those where a party is supposed to pay child support and hasn't, a bench or capias order can bring him before a judge where he must explain why he's not paying. If he doesn't have an acceptable reason, such as that he's lost his job, he can be sent to jail until he pays the past due support.
Capias Warrants for Citations
Some jurisdictions issue capias warrants for those who fail to pay court-ordered fines for a traffic citation or other civil infraction. In these situations, the arrested person can either pay the fine or serve time in jail after he's picked up by the police. He may also be charged a fine for each day he spends in jail if he refuses to pay up.
Read More: Definition of Civil Warrant
Capias Warrants for Failure to Appear
A court can issue a capias warrant for someone who's been subpoenaed or otherwise ordered to appear at a hearing but who refuses to attend. Police can arrest the person and hold him in jail until the matter is resolved – usually when he agrees to testify or show in court.
Capias Warrants in Criminal Proceedings
Although capias warrants are generally issued in civil cases, criminal courts may issue one as well. If someone violates his parole and his parole is revoked, a bench warrant will be issued to bring him back into custody. The same thing might happen if a defendant is out on bail, pending trial, and violates the conditions of his bail.
Capias warrants require you to either appear in court or pay an amount of money previously owed to the legal system, such as a fine, a civil settlement or, in some states, child support.
An attorney and founder of ScrofanoLaw, a general practice law firm in Washington, D.C., Joseph Scrofano has been writing on legal issues since 2008. He holds a Juris Doctor from the Washington College of Law, a Bachelor of Arts with special honors from the University of Texas and a master's degree in international affairs from American University's School of International Service.