A bench warrant is an open warrant that is typically the result of a missed court date, unpaid court fine or an unpaid traffic citation, which are all infractions. The court system, at least for most infractions, is designed to provide individuals with access to a judge in a timely manner. Over time, the meaning of timely has shifted, and many people have court dates months out from the time they receive an infraction.
For some people, simply staying on top of a court date for something minor like a moving violation can be tricky. For others, avoiding court is made easier due to long lead times before you have to go in front of a judge.
When a court date is missed or other laws of the court are violated, a bench warrant may be issued. Use this guide to learn more about bench warrants, how you can check to see if you have one and how to deal with it if you do.
A bench warrant is a type of warrant issued by a judge. This can happen when a person misses a court date where they were scheduled to appear. However, bench warrants can be issued for other infractions, and a broader definition allows judges to issue them when a person simply violates any of the rules of the court.
For all practical purposes though, bench warrants are issued when a person does not show up for a court date. Police can arrest individuals who have a bench warrant.
Even though bench warrants are public record, you cannot simply walk down to the courthouse and ask to run a warrant search on someone, if you even know what courthouse to go to and in what state. A simple way to verify if someone, including yourself, has an outstanding warrant is to use a resource like SearchQuarry.com. This type of search, that can be run on anyone as long as you have a first and last name, is intended for verification and unofficial purposes only.
Checking to see if you have a bench warrant can feel like a complicated process. If you fear that you may have one, you have a few options to help you get the information you need to act accordingly.
A bench warrant will be issued by a judge and the court where the judge presides. The police then enforce the bench warrant, helping to bring the individual to court. In many cases however, a bench warrant differs from an arrest warrant in the veracity with which the police pursue the issue.
Most bench warrants are issued because of failure to appear violations, many of which are resolved when the individual gets a notice from the court through the mail. Typically people are not arrested
A bench warrant is typically issued by a judge, which sets it apart from an arrest warrant, which will usually be issued by local police in the area where you live. Typically a bench warrant is issued because a person did not show up in court – on the bench in front of the judge – at the agreed upon time.
While a bench warrant is issued by a judge, it is the police who will enforce it and help ensure that the individual does end up in court. For all practical purposes, a bench warrant can be treated just like an arrest warrant.
Most of the time though bench warrants are resolved by the court and the individual without police intervention. Extradition or other similar actions are unlikely for most bench warrants.
Trying to figure out what to do when you’re served with a bench warrant can be a little confusing. While contacting the courts, the police or using a third-party website is best, it won’t help you actually clear up the matter. Your attorney can help with that, but if you want to do it on your own or you don’t have an attorney, you do have options.
Bench warrants are not something you want to mess around with since the police do enforce them. However, most people get bench warrants because they simply forget about a court date due to other life circumstances and long wait times. If that happened to you, simply contacting the court is your best bet.
Act quickly, ideally as soon as you remember that you missed a court date, and leniency may be granted. Some areas charge court fees and fines for missing court dates and bench warrants, but if you’re dealing with a traffic ticket or minor violation, you won’t be put in jail!