A bench warrant is a court order issued by a judge to compel an offender to appear before the court in a hearing or trial. Individuals can determine if they are the subject of a bench warrant by contacting an official agency that has access to information concerning issued and active bench warrants, or by reviewing their court documents.
Bench warrants are commonly issued for offenders who fail to appear in court or pay a fine as ordered by a judge or hearing officer. There are a number of methods that can reveal whether an individual is the subject of an active bench warrant. However, in many cases, the person may need to provide his name and Social Security number to obtain information about active warrants.
Further, with some of these methods, the subject of the warrant will no longer be "under the radar." Using these methods could alert the authorities and therefore lead to immediate arrest, assuming a warrant has been issued.
Read Existing Court Documents
Bench warrants are, by definition, issued in the course of cases that are already pending. Consequently, there should be some existing documentation from the court, or from the opposing party in the case of civil litigation. A review of that documentation can reveal any statement that explains the circumstances under which a bench warrant may be issued.
For instance, there may be language in the paperwork stipulating that a warrant will be issued if the party fails to pay a fine, appear on a specific date before the court or perform some other specific duty. If any of those conditions have occurred, it could be safe to assume that the court or hearing officer has issued a bench warrant for the arrest of that person.
Watch for Mailed Notices
In many cases, the clerk of court or county sheriff will mail a written notice advising a party that the court has issued a bench warrant for her arrest. Often, these letters will be mailed through the U.S. Postal Service using certified mail and frequently will require a signature acknowledging receipt. If the addressee is not at home at the time of the delivery, the postal service may leave a card stating that the letter is being kept at the post office, where the addressee may go and sign for it.
Talk to the Case's Lawyer
When concerned about the existence of a bench warrant, the first call should be to the individual's attorney, if he has one. Any attorney who has entered an appearance on a person's behalf for the pending legal matter is designated as his counsel of record, and the court will notify that attorney if and when a bench warrant has been issued. The attorney is then professionally obligated to let him know of the warrant’s existence as well as what he can do to clear the warrant.
Contact the Clerk of Court
In every jurisdiction, an elected or appointed official serves as the clerk of court and as such maintains the official record of all court proceedings occurring in that jurisdiction. The clerk’s office maintains information about issued bench warrants and other official court orders, as well as information about what actions are required to clear the warrant. In cases involving traffic violations, library fines and other minor matters, it may only be necessary to pay a fine.
An interested party may contact the clerk of the court in which the relevant case is pending for information about any outstanding bench warrants. In some cases, the clerk of court’s office also offers access to active warrant information through its official website.
Contact the Sheriff's Department
When a judge or hearing officer enters a bench warrant for an individual, local law enforcement authorities receive notice of the warrant in order to locate and take the individual into custody. In most cases, the sheriff of the county in which the court and individual are located will be notified of active warrants. The sheriff’s deputies are then empowered to track down the named individuals at their places of residence and work, if known. They may also take individuals with active warrants into custody during routine stops for traffic violations.
- You may need to provide your name and social security number to obtain information about warrants you may have.
Annie Sisk is a freelance writer who lives in upstate New York. She holds a B.A. in Speech from Catawba College and a J.D. from USC. She has written extensively for publications and websites in the business, management and legal fields.