What is A Bench Warrant?
A bench warrant is the most common arrest warrant issued in the state of California. It is so named because it is issued by a judge, "from the bench." Unlike other arrest warrants, a bench warrant is not issued on the suspicion of criminal activity. They arise from a failure to adhere to the terms and conditions of a pre-existing offense. Such terms include probation provisions, court attendance, fine payment, or compliance with a court order. Additionally, if you are indicted by California grand jury and not present at the time you are indicted, the judge may issue a bench warrant.
Recall and Quash A California Bench Warrant
Once you become aware a judge has issued a bench warrant for your arrest, you will want to address and resolve the issue. Most courts will not immediately recall a bench warrant. The case must be added to the calendar and you must then appear at the date and time set by the clerk.
If a warrant has been issued, you will want to be represented by an attorney. When appearing on a warrant recall, there is a possibility that you could be remanded into custody. Having an attorney can often prevent this from happening. A defense attorney knows which arguments to use and how to implement them effectively. Instead of showing up a hoping for the best, your first step after finding out a bench warrant has been issued should be to contact an experienced California criminal defense attorney.
If the warrant was issued because you failed to pay a fine associated with a misdemeanor offense, or failed to appear in court, then your warrant could be recalled by your defense attorney - even in your absence, so you wouldn't even have to appear in court. However, if the bench warrant arose out of failure to obey a court order in a felony case (as opposed to failure to pay a fine, or a court order in a misdemeanor case), you will need to be present in court to clear the bench warrant. You are still urged to contact an attorney first, to determine the best course of action in your unique case. Do not simply show up at the courthouse without having so much as consulted with one. You would only be hurting yourself and your own case by doing so.
Potential for Dismissal
There are certain time restrictions on a bench warrant which may well work in your benefit. The warrant must be served within a reasonable window of time after it has been issued. You have the right to a speedy trial, so if the warrant is not served after a great deal of time, you may see it dismissed.
Consequences of A Bench Warrant
Assuming you don't proactively try to recall a bench warrant and fail to consult with a California criminal defense attorney, the penalties are generally as follows:
- After an incident in which you make contact with police, you will be taken into police custody for the outstanding bench warrant.
- If you are put in jail, you will need to post bail.
- If the bench warrant was issued because you failed to appear in court, you may be charged with the misdemeanor of failure to appear (FTA).
- To convict you of this, the prosecutor must you prove that you expressly intended to "evade the process of the court." If you were kept away from court for reasons beyond your control, this may be a credit to your defense in such a charge
- Failure to appear in court for a felony charge with a result in felony FTA, if convicted the penalty can be a $5,000 fine and jail or prison sentence
Failure to appear in court is not the only offense which may result in a bench warrant, as mentioned. If you fail to pay a fine or court-ordered restitution, you could face a penalty. It must be proven that you willfully did not pay the fine, even though you were able to. A person who is not financially capable of paying will not be penalized, so long as they obey all subsequent court orders.
If you contact a California criminal defense attorney immediately after you miss a court date or fail to pay a court-ordered fine, they may be able to schedule a hearing before the court even takes the step of issuing a warrant.
California Criminal Defense Attorney
California criminal defense attorney Lynn Gorelick is equipped with over 30 years of experience representing criminal defendants in the East Bay. She is prepared to fight your charges, defend your rights and protect your best interest in court. If there is an outstanding bench warrant for your arrest, contact criminal defense attorney Lynn Gorelick for a free consultation on your case.