Bench Warrant

Bench Warrant

For most people, the idea of being arrested is a terrifying, yet unlikely prospect. Yet despite all those fears, thousands of American citizens are arrested and charged with a crime each year. Some are caught in the act of committing a crime, others are detained due to an officer’s suspicion, and others are arrested due to an outstanding bench warrant.

When a person commits contempt of court—failing to appear for a scheduled court date or neglecting to pay a traffic citation, for example—a judge may issue a bench warrant as a form of punishment. Once the document has been authorized by the court, this warrant allows officers to arrest the person if he or she is located. However, contrary to popular belief, a bench warrant is not the same as an arrest warrant.

So what’s the difference between the two? First and foremost, whereas arrest warrants are issued when a person is suspected of committing a crime, bench warrants are reserved for individuals who commit an offense against the court. Secondly, while arrest warrants are typically only used in criminal cases, a bench warrant can be issued for civil cases as well.

If a bench warrant has been issued against you, it means that you can be arrested immediately if a law enforcement officer stops you. For example, if you are pulled over for speeding and the officer discovers you have an outstanding warrant, you will most likely be arrested on the spot—even if you committed no other offense.

Of course, if you have an outstanding bench warrant, you are still entitled to the same constitutional protections as any other U.S. citizen. The officer must advise you of your rights at the time of your arrest, for example, and he or she cannot search you or your vehicle unless there is probable cause to suspect you of committing a crime. In addition, the officer must physically show you the bench warrant at the time of your arrest, or shortly thereafter.

If you were recently arrested on a bench warrant, it is important to have legal representation before your day in court arrives. In some cases, the warrant may have been issued in error, or the judge may not have had probable cause for its issuance. Likewise, if the officer who arrested you conducted an improper search, failed to inform you of your rights, or violated any other constitutional protection, your arrest may have been unjustified—which means your case is likely to be dismissed.

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