Sometimes it's easier to go to court than not. If someone gets a speeding ticket that requires a court appearance or is subpoenaed to appear as a witness in court, not showing up in court on the date and time given can cause problems. If the person does not appear in court when summoned, the court can, and often will, issue a bench warrant that authorizes law enforcement to arrest her and bring her back to court.
What Is a Bench Warrant?
When a person is officially summoned to appear in court at a particular day and time, the court expects him to show up. If he doesn't appear, he is in contempt of court. Since he isn't there, the court cannot deal with the matter at hand so, instead, issues a bench warrant. This is a type of court writ that authorizes law enforcement to arrest him and bring him before the court.
In some ways, a bench warrant acts like an arrest warrant, another type of court writ that authorizes the police to arrest someone. However, the arrest warrant procedure is started by a police officer. The officer explains to the judge why the police believe that the person has committed a crime and lays out the evidence that there is probable cause to arrest the person. When the judge signs an arrest warrant, the officer can track down the suspect and make the arrest.
Read More: How to Know If Someone Got Picked Up on a Bench Warrant
How Does a Bench Warrant Work?
Generally, police do not drive away from the courthouse, sirens screaming, to pick someone up when a bench warrant is issued. If the matter is urgent or even very serious, it is likely an arrest warrant, not a bench warrant would be issued.
It's easiest to understand how a bench warrant works by setting out an example: Imagine that a woman attending a political protest blocks the entrance to a building and is cited for disturbing the peace. The police do not arrest her but issue a ticket that sets a court date for her to appear. On the day of the hearing, she does not show up and the judge issues a bench warrant.
A month later, the woman is pulled over for blocking an intersection while driving home from the gym. The officer who stops her runs her driver's license and discovers the bench warrant. She is arrested and taken to jail to await a court hearing. Most of the time she is given the option of posting bail as an assurance that she will show up this time. She will be sentenced on the original violation of disturbing the peace, as well as blocking the intersection.
How to Deal With a Bench Warrant?
If a person finds out that a bench warrant has been issued for his arrest, he can manage the situation in a way that avoids an awkward and embarrassing trip to jail. However, to avoid going to jail, he must usually go to the courthouse. He will need to ask for a new hearing and post bail guaranteeing his presence in order for the court to lift the bench warrant.
Is there any way to get a bench warrant lifted without posting bail? There may be. If the person appears at court with an attorney, a judge may lift the warrant and discharge any bail requirement. This practice however varies among courts and often depends on the agreement of the prosecutor. It is only possible if the offense is a misdemeanor, and the amount of bail is set low. If the person has a history of failing to appear in court when ordered, his chances of getting the bench warrant removed and a new hearing set without posting bail are not good.
- Be honest. Any time you appear in court you must tell the truth. Lying to a judge is a serious offense and will only compound your troubles.
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. 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 MA and an MFA in English/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.