How to Search for a Bench Warrant

By Aaron Gifford
Convicted criminals can be arrested again if a judge issues a bench warrant for parole or probation violations

The hands of the men chained in handcuffs, on a background of th image by Sergey Sukhorukov from Fotolia.com

A criminal court judge will issue a bench warrant for someone's arrest if that person fails to appear in court at the required time, or if he or she does not show up at a required counseling session or meeting with criminal justice representatives under the conditions of probation. Such warrants are also issued if the defendant violates a restraining order to stay away from a victim or complainant. After the suspect is arrested on that warrant, he or she may be charged with violation of probation or parole, or criminal contempt of court. All court documents in these matters are public record.

Compile the information you have that is related to the case or suspected case, including the name of the person or people involved, the original charge, the date or estimated date of arrest and the anticipated court date in that case. If you know the police agency that was involved, contact officers there to provide whatever information they have. If not, try the nonemergency number for the county E-911 center and ask if they can do an incident/arrest search based on the information you have.

Bring your information to the county district attorney's or prosecutor's office. A representative should know if the matter is a felony case being handled in a county court or if it's in a municipal justice court, and direct you to the appropriate place.

Request a copy of the bench warrant from the appropriate court clerk. If required, provide a Freedom of Information Act letter or form that notes the specific document you are looking for as well as your contact information. Depending on the state and the court's policies for processing records, it may take the clerk a few days to process the request. The clerk may also charge you for copies. Bench warrants are usually public records because the suspect has already been charged and/or arrested, but in some circumstances the order to bring that suspect back into court may be part of an ongoing investigation, which is one of the nine exemptions to Freedom of Information Act law where an agency has a reason to deny your request.

About the Author

Aaron Gifford is based in New York. He has been on staff at the "Syracuse Post-Standard," the "Watertown Daily Times" and the "Oneida Daily Dispatch." He's also written for "Long Island Newsday," "Empire State Report" magazine and "In Good Health." He has been writing professionally since 1995. Gifford holds a Bachelor of Arts in sociology from the University at Buffalo.

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