What Are Bench Warrants in Michigan?

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A Michigan court will issue a bench warrant for individuals who were supposed to appear in court on a specific date during a pending case but failed to show up. The court will typically issue bench warrants for traffic offenses or misdemeanor charges and arrest warrants for more serious crimes.

In early 2021, the state changed its criteria for bench warrant issuance, allowing for the use of a summons instead. This gives individuals 48 hours to voluntarily turn themselves in to a law enforcement agency. A bench warrant in the state of Michigan does not expire; it remains active until the offender's arrest or until they voluntarily turn themselves in.

A court can void a bench warrant if it has sufficient grounds for doing so; at that point, it becomes unenforceable.

What Is a Bench Warrant?

In all states, including Michigan, a bench warrant is a court order issued to individuals who fail to appear in court during a pending case without a valid reason. Bench warrants and arrest warrants are different in that there is no serious criminal accusation against an individual in a bench warrant.

Instead, the individual has committed an offense against the court by not appearing. The court will typically issue bench warrants for those facing traffic violations or other misdemeanor charges.

Law enforcement won't actively seek out those who have bench warrants against them, but they are not entirely off the hook either. If they get stopped by law enforcement for any reason, and a police officer discovers they have a bench warrant, they face immediate arrest and can potentially remain in jail without bond until their next court date.

Who Issues Bench Warrants in Michigan?

An offender may receive a letter from the court informing them that they have a bench warrant and that law enforcement can take them into custody. Only judges issue bench warrants. Prosecutors do not do so, but they may file a motion asking for a bench warrant's issuance if an offender fails to appear.

A Michigan bench warrant does not expire; it remains valid until the individual's arrest takes place or the person turns themselves in. A judge can void a bench warrant if there are sufficient grounds for doing so. At that point, it becomes unenforceable.

Recent Changes to Bench Warrant Rules

In early 2021, the Michigan legislature changed its criteria for bench warrant issuance, allowing for the use of a summons instead of a bench warrant regarding most offenses. Instead of detaining the individual immediately after their arrest, the summons gives that person a time and date to appear in court. The court delivers this document to the individual in person or by mail to their last known address.

The court does not use summonses for all offenses. A person will not receive a summons, but can receive a bench warrant, in certain circumstances:

  • Assaultive crimes, such as domestic violence.
  • Offenses posing a public safety risk, including threats against law enforcement. People charged with drunk driving, drug charges or theft offenses receive summons as the danger to the public is no longer imminent.
  • If a judge believes that an individual will not appear in court, they may issue a bench warrant.

Not Appearing for a Summons

Of course, offenders will face consequences for not appearing on the scheduled date and time stated in the summons. If it is their first failure to appear, the court must wait 48 hours for them to voluntarily show up. After that time, the court can issue a bench warrant for that individual. There are some exceptions to the 48-hour rule:

  • The offender commits a new crime.
  • The offender poses a threat to public safety.
  • The court summons prosecution witnesses and they are present.
  • The court proceeding is to impose a criminal sentence.

These are not the only reasons for the court to bypass the waiting period before issuing a bench warrant. If the court issues a bench warrant sooner than 48 hours, it must state its reasons for doing so.

Searching for a Michigan Bench Warrant

A person who believes they may have a bench warrant against them can contact the court at the location of their case hearing and ask. They also can find their records through the state's MSP Records Request Portal, where they will create an account through MILogin.

The Michigan Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) allows the public, except incarcerated individuals, access to public records of public bodies. The state may charge a fee for a records request.

If There Is a Bench Warrant

If a person does have a bench warrant, they should act immediately. They can ask if the court can set a date for a new court hearing on the original charge, which it may do, depending on their reason for not appearing and the type of court it is.

This is more likely if they contact the court on the day of the scheduled hearing. If law enforcement encounters a person who has a bench warrant before they call the court, they will arrest that person. They will not ask why the individual skipped a court date.

Voluntarily Surrendering to the Court

An offender can voluntarily turn themselves in to the court on a bench warrant. Doing so removes the risk factors associated with an arrest. Police departments will not ignore an active warrant. If they stop someone, they will check that person's driver's license and investigate if they have an outstanding warrant.

After their arrest, a judge may set a higher bond or impose additional conditions. Their voluntary appearance may reduce or eliminate these risks.