A bench warrant is a warrant for your arrest issued to force you to appear in court.  Typically, these warrants are issued after a failure to appear for another case or because the court needs to see you about some other matter.  If a police officer finds out you have a bench warrant, they will typically arrest you and may keep you for holding until you can be scheduled for a court appearance.  If you have a bench warrant, you should speak with an attorney about how to get that warrant removed and handle your case before facing potential arrest and prosecution.  The Ventura criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of Bamieh and De Smeth discuss some information you need to know about your bench warrants and how to get them removed in California.

What is a Bench Warrant?

Many people find out that they have a bench warrant out for them because they have another run-in with the police, typically when they get pulled over for a traffic offense or stopped for questioning.  Hearing the officer tell you that there’s a bench warrant for you or getting a call from the court telling you there is a bench warrant for your arrest can be scary, but understanding what a bench warrant is and why it was issued can help alleviate some of these fears.

First of all, a “warrant” is a legal document signed by a judge giving police authority to either search or seize a place, a thing, or a person.  Under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, you cannot be arrested, be searched, or have your property searched without a warrant based on “probable cause” (with some legal exceptions).  If you are under investigation for a crime and police want to search your home, collect evidence, or arrest you, they go to a judge to get a warrant first, which gives them permission to carry out the search or seizure.

A bench warrant is a bit different.  Instead of a police officer or the DA’s office asking for the warrant, a judge personally issues the warrant “from the bench.”  These warrants are a specific request from a judge to have you arrested.  Since judges are not criminal investigators or police officers, this means that the bench warrant is not usually used to arrest you for a crime, but rather to arrest you to get you to court.

Why Do I Have a Bench Warrant?

Bench warrants are most commonly issued because someone skipped a court date – typically known as a “failure to appear” (FTA).  Judges typically do not have the power to take legal action against you unless you are in the courtroom and have a chance to defend yourself.  This means that if you are up on charges and fail to appear at your court date, the judge can’t do much until you show up.  The bail system is designed to give people incentives to appear in court, but if this does not work, judges resort to bench warrants to force you to go to court.

Judges may also issue a bench warrant for other pending criminal charges or fines you have not addressed, such as a large number of unpaid traffic tickets.  Courts may also issue a warrant to find you if you owe the court money.

What Happens if I Have a Bench Warrant?

A bench warrant is typically put into a statewide system.  When police officers deal with citizens, they may run their driver’s license or ID through a system that will check for bench warrants.  This is especially common if they pull you over for a traffic ticket or drunk driving, and police will almost always run a warrant check if you are arrested for another crime like theft or assault.

If police discover that there is a bench warrant for you, one of two things will typically happen: either the officer will warn you that you have a warrant and remind you to take care of it, or they will arrest you.  If they arrest you, you will go to jail and wait there until a hearing is scheduled with the judge that issued the warrant or bail is granted.  If you already missed a court date, your bail might be denied and you will not be released until you appear in court.

Typically, you cannot be arrested at your house unless there is an arrest warrant for you and a search warrant for your house to find you there.  Bench warrants typically do not give police permission to come to your house looking for you, and you will usually not be arrested unless police come across your path for another legal issue.

How to Get Rid of a Bench Warrant in California

The simplest way to get rid of a bench warrant in California is to call the court that issued the bench warrant or the local police, ask them what the warrant is for, and see if they will schedule you a new court date and drop the warrant.  However, if you call to tell them where you are, you may fear the chance of being arrested.

Hiring an attorney to handle your bench warrants for you can take the stress out of the situation and help protect your rights.  Especially if you need to go to court to address the warrants, it is important to have a lawyer go with you to handle the court proceedings on your behalf and defend you against the charges.

For a Free Legal Consultation on Your Bench Warrants, Call Our Ventura Criminal Defense Lawyers Today

If you have outstanding bench warrants for a failure to appear or another legal issue, call the Law Offices of Bamieh and De Smeth today.  Our Ventura criminal defense lawyers can investigate your warrants, find out what they are for, and help you get the warrants cleared.  We can also represent you on any criminal charges you face related to these warrants and work to get the case against you dropped or dismissed.  For a free legal consultation on your case, call us today at (805) 643-5555.