What are Bench Warrants?

by Real Estate Lawyer on July 19, 2012

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(US criminal law; guest blog post provided by a Philadelphia law firm): Different from a traditional warrant, a bench warrant is a different type of legal summons that carries a very different set of implications and legal ramifications. A bench warrant is levied by a judge, most usually against someone who fails to appear in court. This is not the only way that a bench warrant can be put in place, however. Some of the reasons one may have a bench warrant placed against them are:

  • Contempt of Court
  • Failure to Appear for a Court Date
  • Failure to Appear for Jury Duty
  • Failure to pay child support
  • Disobeying a Subpoena

A bench warrant, as its name suggests, is a summons to appear in front of the “bench” of the judge. This simply means that you are legally obligated to appear before a judge, either because of in-court behavior or because of a failure to appear.

The most common type of bench warrants are those given for failure to appear in court, as the process for obtaining a bench warrant on someone is strenuous and involves a lot of paperwork for the judge. The process of levying and obtaining a bench warrant is where they differ from the more common arrest warrant. While the arrest warrant process is begun by the arresting police officer, the bench warrant begins with the judge or justice of your case. They are given more frequently for judicial misconduct than for legal misconduct.

Law Enforcement’s Involvement in Bench Warrants

Even though bench warrants begin with the judicial aspects of the law that does not mean that the law enforcement is absent. If you have been issued a bench warrant, the police and sheriff of the surrounding area are notified of your bench warrant. Unlike an arrest warrant, in which you may only be picked up by an officer after reasonable suspicion or by some intervention, you may be taken into custody by any law officer that sees you, regardless of what is occurring. This can be embarrassing and even damaging for the reputation of the person with the bench warrant.

The reason behind the abrupt appropriation into custody is that those with bench warrants have been deemed “flight risks” by the courts. The sooner they can be apprehended and brought to justice, the greater the chance that they can appear and address the reason for which the warrant was levied.

What about Bench Warrants and Bail?

Unlike with an arrest warrant, the possibility of flight risks is too high for bail to be set for those in police custody due to a bench warrant. In most cases, a person with a bench warrant will be denied bail in order to minimize the risk that a second warrant will need to be issued for fleeing the first warrant.

The Two Kinds of Bench Warrants

Luckily, there are two types of bench warrants, depending on the severity of the offense. The less severe type is a bond warrant, in which you may post bond for yourself and schedule a court date. The second is a no-bond warrant, which is much more severe. In this case, you may not leave police custody until you see a judge, which means some amount of jail time.

This post was provided by Celli & Associates, a Philadelphia-based practice that specializes in real estate law. They serve both residential and commercial clients, providing assistance with tenant evictions, lease agreements, zoning issues, and real estate fraud charges.

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