Bench Warrants: Fear Won’t Make Them Disappear

Did you miss a court appearance (sometimes referred to as a “failure to appear” or an “FTA”) or not follow all of the conditions of your pre-trial release or probation?  If so, there may be a bench warrant out for your arrest.  However, fear alone won’t make that bench warrant disappear – you need the help of an experienced Baltimore County defense lawyer.

What is a Bench Warrant?

Simply put:  A bench warrant is an order that is issued by a judge to law enforcement officers that authorizes them to arrest and take you into custody and bring you to court for one or more reasons.  Having a bench warrant means that you may face immediate arrest at any time if you have an encounter with law enforcement, even if you need to go to work or make it to an important appointment.

How Can You Get a Bench Warrant?

Whenever you’re arrested and released on either your own personal recognizance or with a bail, you make a promise to return to court.  If you fail to appear for court as promised, then the judge will likely issue a bench warrant.  Even if you call the court and let them know you can’t make it, perhaps because of a family emergency, the judge will still likely issue a bench warrant.

You can also get a bench warrant even if you’re late to court.  If you aren’t present when your case is called, the judge has no way of knowing if you’re on your way or are purposefully skipping out on your court date.

A judge may also issue a bench warrant if you violate a condition of your pre-trial release. For example, if you contact the alleged victim in your case despite being ordered not to do so, the judge may decide to issue a bench warrant rather than waiting until your next scheduled court appearance to discuss the matter.

What Happens If You Are Arrested on a Bench Warrant?

A bench warrant instructs a police officer to bring you before a judge without unnecessary delay.  In reality, the process will take a minimum of several hours, and you could end up spending the night in police custody.

It takes time for you to be transported to the proper courthouse, and you could face a lengthy wait for an available judge especially if you are arrested outside of normal court hours.  Many people have lost their jobs due to being arrested on a warrant and not being able to show up for work.

When you appear before the judge, he or she has several options:

  • Revoke your bail and require you to remain in jail until trial
  • Increasing your bail or level of pre-trial supervision
  • Impose additional or modified pre-trial release conditions
  • Continue your original bail and pre-trial release conditions

The judge will consider the entire situation in making a decision as to what to do; including your past criminal record, whether this is your first time missing court, your reason for missing court, and the seriousness of the alleged violation.

What Can You Do About a Bench Warrant?

You have two options for dealing with a bench warrant if you don’t want the possibility of a sudden arrest hanging over your head:  Voluntary surrender and filing a motion to recall the bench warrant.

First, you may decide to voluntarily surrender yourself to law enforcement and face the judge.  The fact that you returned voluntarily will generally help you when the judge is deciding what to do about your bail and pre-trial release status and conditions.

Second, you may alternatively decide file a motion to recall the bench warrant.  This is basically a written request that asks the judge to withdraw the warrant.  However, the judge does not have to grant the motion, and you may still face arrest until the warrant is officially withdrawn.

How a Baltimore County Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help

The first way an attorney can help is to potentially stop a bench warrant from being issued in the first place. If you know in advance that you can’t make your court date, contact your attorney as soon as possible, and he or she may be able to get your case rescheduled by filing for a postponement.

If a bench warrant has already been issued, an attorney can prepare a motion to recall the bench warrant or help you to voluntarily surrender with minimal disruption to your life.  Your attorney will also work to convince the judge to not increase your bail or change your pre-trial conditions and status.

If you have a bench warrant, don’t rely on it “just going away” while watching every move you make:  Contact our office today for a free, private consultation with an experienced Baltimore County defense lawyer