A bench warrant in Michigan is an order from a court judge that instructs law enforcement officials to arrest a person who has ignored a prior legal obligation to appear in court. For example, a defendant who fails to show up for trial in a civil case involving his barking dog may be subject to a bench warrant.
Bench vs. Arrest Warrants
Generally speaking, bench warrants are issued in civil cases and arrest warrants are issued in criminal cases. If you fail to show up in a Michigan court on the day of your trial for driving while under the influence, you will be found guilty and the judge will issue an arrest warrant. Law enforcement officials will actively try to arrest you, perhaps at home or at work, while you are still in their jurisdiction. On the other hand, if you are subject to a bench warrant, the police are unlikely to search for you. But if you come to the attention of a police officer, perhaps because you are stopped for a minor traffic violation, the officer will run your record, discover the bench warrant and arrest you.
Read More: How to Resolve Old Arrest Warrants
A law enforcement official cannot ignore a bench warrant when he comes across a subject of one. If you come into contact with the police, it's almost certain an officer will check to see if you have any outstanding warrants.
Jurisdiction refers to the legal reach of the court. In cases of bench warrants in Michigan, the court has jurisdiction over individuals who have a relationship to a case pending in a particular court. A court automatically has jurisdiction over the parties to the case, the plaintiff and the defendant. He also may issue a subpoena to bring other people involved in the case, such as witnesses, under the court's jurisdiction.
To acquire jurisdiction over a witness in Michigan, a judge issues a subpoena, which subjects the witness to further orders from the court. Then a bench warrant can be issued. Generally speaking, you would be wise to show up in a Michigan court on the appointed day if you are a party or witness in a civil or criminal case. If you fail to show up, and the judge issues a bench warrant for your arrest, it will hang over your head whether you are in Michigan or another state.
Jim Thomas has been a freelance writer since 1978. He wrote a book about professional golfers and has written magazine articles about sports, politics, legal issues, travel and business for national and Northwest publications. He received a Juris Doctor from Duke Law School and a Bachelor of Science in political science from Whitman College.