In the state of Indiana, a bench warrant is an arrest warrant that a judge or magistrate issues when a defendant or a subpoenaed witness in civil or criminal proceedings fails to appear in court. The court may also issue a bench warrant for a person who has failed to pay their fines and/or court costs within a certain amount of time. There is no statute of limitations on a bench warrant.
A person released from lawful detention on the condition that they appear at a specified time and place in connection with the charge of a crime and who intentionally fails to appear commits a Class A misdemeanor. If the original charge was a felony, the failure to appear is a Level 6 felony. A warrant of arrest for a misdemeanor expires 180 days after it is issued.
A warrant of arrest for a felony and a rearrest warrant for any offense do not expire. It is not a defense to arrest that the person is not later convicted of the original crime with which they were charged.
Penalties for Failure to Appear
The penalty for a Class A misdemeanor is up to one year in jail and a fine up to $5,000. The penalty for a Level 6 felony is between six months to two and a half years' incarceration and a fine up to $10,000. If a person fails to appear or answer a traffic information and summons, the court can suspend their driving privileges. The court may declare a defendant's bond forfeited if it has been between 120 days and 365 days since their failure to appear.
When Victim Doesn’t Appear
In some cases, a witness who does not show up in court to testify in a criminal case is also the victim in that case. The court may still issue a warrant for a victim's arrest. Typically, after a prosecutor’s office charges someone with a crime, the victim cannot decide that the individual should not be prosecuted. The prosecutor can proceed to prosecute the defendant even if the victim has changed their mind about pressing charges and testifying.
Requirements for a Bench Warrant
A bench warrant for failure to appear (FTA) must adhere to certain requirements. It must:
- Be in writing.
- Show the name of the person to be arrested.
- State the date and county of issuance.
- Be signed by the clerk or the judge of the court, with the title of the judge’s office.
- Command the person named in the warrant be arrested without unnecessary delay and brought before the court that issued the warrant.
- Specify the amount of bail, if any.
- Be directed to the sheriff of the county.
The judge will issue the warrant to the sheriff of the county in which the individual has failed to appear. The warrant may be served or arrests can be made:
- By any law enforcement officer.
- On any day of the week.
- At any time of the day or night.
A police officer may break open any outer or inner door or window to execute an arrest warrant if the officer is not admitted after announcing their authority and purpose.
How to Handle Active Warrants
A person can handle a failure to appear warrant by turning themselves in to a law enforcement office such as a county sheriff’s office, jail or court. Alternatively, they can file a motion to have the outstanding bench warrant recalled or for a combined bond review and warrant surrender. A criminal defense attorney can assist a client by representing them in court or advising them as to how to represent themselves.
If a defendant files a motion to have the bench warrant recalled, they should explain why they were not present at the court proceeding for which they were summoned. The judge will look at a number of factors to decide whether to make an court order to recall the bench warrant, including:
- Nature of the original charge.
- Gravity of the offense.
- How long the bench warrant has been active.
- Individual’s criminal record.
- Individual’s past behavior in court.
The individual should promise to appear for future court dates.
Motion for Combined Bond Review and Warrant Surrender
A person typically should file a motion for a combined bond review and warrant surrender only after the court has denied their motion to recall the outstanding warrant. When they file the combined motion, they agree to surrender themselves to the court on the open warrant and request the court to hold a bond review.
The advantage of requesting this type of court hearing is the court can decide to release the defendant on their own recognizance (ROR). This means the defendant will not have to spend time in custody.
The second advantage is that the court will set bond in the same proceeding. Then the defendant can post bond more quickly and be released from jail sooner. If the defendant is lucky, both events could happen on the same day. It is a good idea to bring a friend or family member to court so they can pay bond in case the defendant is ordered to be taken into custody.
Recalling a Bench Warrant
A judge or magistrate can recall a bench warrant if they find that the defendant did not intentionally miss court. Also, if the prosecutor on the case dismisses the information or indictment, the court may recall the bench warrant. The court will let the sheriff know that the charge has been dismissed, and the sheriff's department will notify law enforcement agencies to whom the arrest warrant or summons has been delivered that it has been revoked.
Regular Indiana Arrest Warrant
The court issues a regular arrest warrant when a grand jury or law enforcement officer has demonstrated there is probable cause to suspect that the defendant has committed a crime. The court issues a bench warrant for a party who refuses to come to court.
A defendant who is arrested on a bench warrant faces penalties beyond those for the criminal charge simply because they failed to show up for their court appearance. A defendant sentenced to incarceration for a failure to appear may request that their sentence for the FTA offense run concurrently with the sentence for the underlying criminal charge. This way they will serve less time than if their sentences run consecutively.
- Indiana Code: Section 35-33-2-2 Arrest Warrants
- Indiana Code: Section 35-44.1-2.9 Failure to Appear
- Indiana Code: Section 9-30-3-8 Traffic Case, Failure to Appear
- Indiana Code: Section 35-50-3-2 Sentence for Class A Misdemeanor
- Indiana Code: Section 35-50-2-1 Definitions
- Indiana Code: Section 35-33-8-7 Forfeiture of Bond
- Hendricks County, Indiana: Frequently Asked Questions
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.