Bench Warrant: What You Need To Know
You have probably heard of the term bench warrant. Chances are, you confused it with an arrest warrant. You are not to blame because criminal law involves many terms that may, at times, be confusing. Even though a bench warrant authorizes an arrest, it is not similar to an arrest warrant. To learn more about a bench warrant, keep reading.
What is a Bench Warrant?
When one is summoned before a court by the judge or magistrate, and the person fails to show up, the judge can issue a document authorizing their arrest. This document is what is called a bench warrant. The term ‘bench warrant’ originates from the person’s failure to appear on the bench before the judge, in a court of law.
The bench warrant is also issued if one fails to respond to a subpoena. Like an arrest warrant, a bench warrant calls for the immediate arrest of the person.
In such cases, the charge is known as a Failure to Appear charge, commonly abbreviated as FTA. Most of the time, people who are issued with bench warrants failed to show up to court simply because they forget about their court appointment. Usually, this happens with people who violate traffic laws and are obligated to show up in court and answer for their charges. A judge may also issue a bench warrant in the following circumstances:
• If a person fails to pay a fine
• If one fails to obey the rules of a court of law
• If a person fails to pay child support as ordered by the court
• If one violates their probation
Once the judge issues the bench warrant, the law enforcement officers treat it as an arrest warrant. The police will then use the bench warrant to bring the defendant before a judge.
How An Arrest Warrant And A Bench Warrant differ:
Although both arrest and bench warrants are legal documents, which authorize an arrest once issued, the two legal documents have some differences.
The significant difference between a bench warrant and an arrest warrant is the source of the warrant. In an arrest warrant, the police are the ones who present the request for the warrant to the judge after providing the judge with sufficient evidence showing that the person is a suspect in a particular crime. For the judge or magistrate to issue the arrest warrant, the police have to present strong and sufficient evidence clearly showing that the person in question is involved in the crime.
On the other hand, a bench warrant is issued with the judge as the judge deems fit. As mentioned above, the judge may issue the warrant if the person fails to show for a court case as required by law, if the person fails to pay their traffic ticket, if one fails to pay child support or if they fail to comply to a subpoena.
In a bench warrant, the judge or magistrate has the sole discretion of the whole bench warrant process. In an arrest warrant, the judge is only presented with the petitions to be signed once the police compile the entire petition for the arrest warrant.
If the judge believes that the probable cause for the arrest is sufficient, they sign the arrest warrant giving the police mandate to arrest the person suspected to have committed the crime whenever and wherever they find the person.
However, this does not mean that the law enforcement officers run to the court every time they need to make an arrest. Numerous arrests do not require arrest warrants. For instance, the police may not require an arrest warrant to catch a suspect caught in the act, such as a pickpocketer or a robber. Usually, arrest warrants are issued when the police want to catch an unsuspecting suspect, either in their workplace or home. The suspect is not notified of their arrest warrant so that they do not run away.
Typically, a bail amount is set as soon as a bench warrant is issued. However, once arrested, the culprit remains in jail until their appearance in court.
Once the police get you, instead of protesting the arrest, the best thing to do is to inform your lawyer of the arrest as soon as possible. Struggling with the police may only put you in more trouble, so remember to stay calm and let your attorney defend you.