What is a “Bench Warrant”?
Written by AskTheLawyers.com™ on behalf of Frank Walker with Frank Walker Law.
Written by AskTheLawyers.com™ on behalf of Frank Walker, a Criminal Law attorney based in Pennsylvania.
Bench warrants are unique. Unlike a standard arrest warrant, they do not typically occur due to violation of a crime, but rather due to violation of courtroom proceedings. In most cases, a bench warrant may be issued when a defendant fails to show up to a court-ordered hearing of some kind.
While arrest warrants are typically submitted for approval by law enforcement, bench warrants are issued by the judge in question. However, just like someone can be arrested and brought before a judge with an arrest warrant, the police may use a bench warrant to find the missing defendant, arrest them, and bring them back.
Bench warrants may be issued whenever an individual is in “contempt of the court”.
Contempt of the court is a term that could refer to one of two things; first, this term may be used when someone is openly disrespectful to the judge or others in the courtroom, causing a disturbance typically after a warning has already been issued. Second, contempt of the court may also refer to an individual’s failure to obey a court order, such as refusing to pay child support, failing to show up for a hearing, and “jumping bail”. Someone who has been cited in contempt of the court may face increased fines or even jail time depending on the judge and the level of contempt shown.
Jumping bail is one of the most common causes for bench warrants.
Jumping bail refers to the practice of failing to appear in court after bailing out of jail. When a criminal defendant jumps bail, a judge may issue a bench warrant for their arrest and may eliminate the bail altogether or increase the bail amount significantly. Additionally, those who do not appear in court when ordered to may face additional charges. However, a bench warrant may also be issued for a non-defendant such as a witness under subpoena who does not show up for a scheduled trial or hearing.
Failing to pay child support or alimony is another common cause for bench warrants.
Bench warrants may arise whenever someone fails to comply with an order of the court, such as a certain amount of spousal or child support ordered to be paid each month. Bench warrants are not uncommon for non-custodial parents who fail to pay child support and/or fail to appear in court to discuss the matter. When someone receives a bench warrant, it is advised to go directly to the court and inform them that you wish to surrender in response to the bench warrant. Failing to respond to a bench warrant can result in additional charges. At this point, the judge may drop the warrant and allow you to sign a notice for a new court which you will be required to attend.
To learn more about bench warrants, or to discuss your case, reach out to a criminal defense attorney in your area.