What Is a California Bench Warrant?
A California Bench Warrant is a legal directive issued by a judge when someone has fails to appear in court (see below), hasn’t settled a fine or neglected to follow a court order. Law enforcement has the authority to treat this as an arrest warrant, enabling them to locate, apprehend, and escort you to court. If such a warrant has been issued in your name, you could be arrested at any moment.
How Does a Bench Warrant Differ from an Arrest Warrant?
The authority to issue a bench warrant lies solely with the judge. In contrast, an arrest warrant necessitates law enforcement to collect enough evidence to convince a judge that there is a probable cause for an arrest. Generally speaking, bench warrants are related to judicial compliance issues, like not appearing in court or not paying fines, whereas arrest warrants are linked to suspected criminal activities.
The Issuance Process for Bench Warrants
A judge issues a bench warrant when they have a reasonable basis to suspect someone has either failed to comply with court orders or failed to appear in court. This type of warrant is commonly used for cases of contempt of court. It can also be issued if someone is indicted by a grand jury but not already in custody. The warrant includes the individual’s identifying details and the rationale for issuing it.
Law enforcement is tasked with carrying out these warrants, detaining the individuals named in them, and bringing them before the court. After an arrest on a bench warrant has been made, the detainee is brought before a judge. This could be the issuing judge, a judge in the county of arrest, or any judge in the county where the warrant originated. The judge then decides the appropriate next steps, which could range from release with a warning to remaining in custody.
Bench Warrant Repercussions in California
Having a bench warrant in your name puts you at risk of arrest at any hour. You may also be subjected to higher bail amounts or even denied bail altogether. Further complications could include additional charges for not following court orders or appearing in court. Such a warrant can negatively affect future job prospects, housing, and other life opportunities.
How to Handle a Bench Warrant
If you discover or suspect that a bench warrant is out for your arrest, reach out to a qualified California criminal defense lawyer immediately. Surrendering yourself to the court may be the advised course of action, but consult your attorney beforehand.
Here are some issues which tou may want to further investigate when dealing with Califotnia bench warramts:
Failure to Appear
Suppose you’re accused of a crime and released from custody with instructions to attend a future court date. What are the consequences if you choose not to show up? Under California Penal Code 1320 & 1320.5, you may face a “Failure to Appear” charge. Following this, a judge will be forced to issue a bench warrant, and law enforcement will come to your residence to arrest you and escort you to court.
The severity of a Failure to Appear charge depends on your original offense. If the initial charge was a misdemeanor, a Failure to Appear could result in an added six months in county jail and fines up to $1,000. If the original charge was a felony, the penalty for Failure to Appear can include up to three more years in prison and fines reaching $10,000.
What Constitutes ‘Failure to Appear’?
For a “Failure to Appear” conviction, the prosecution must establish three principles:
- You were initially accused of or found guilty of a crime in California and were released;
- You deliberately chose not to attend your scheduled court date; and
- You acted this way with the purpose of avoiding court proceedings.
Do California Bench Warrants Remain Valid Beyond State Borders?
- Arrest warrants issued in one California County can be served by law enforcement in any County within California.
- Serious warrants, like felonies, can sometimes be served out of state, but misdemeanor bench warrants are usually not served in neighboring states.
- You can address a bench warrant from out of state without returning to California by having the warrant recalled and resolving the underlying issue. Common issues include unpaid fines or failure to provide proof of completion for requirements like DUI classes.
- California Legislative Information – Penal Code: The official government site for California Penal Codes, including laws concerning bench warrants.
- Harvard Law Review: While not specifically focused on California, the Harvard Law Review often features articles on criminal procedure, including the use of bench warrants.
- Stanford Law Review: Offers scholarly articles and may include in-depth pieces concerning the California justice system and bench warrants.
- California Courts – Self Help: The official self-help site for the California Courts offers an overview of what warrants are and how they are used.
- U.S. Department of Justice: They often release guidelines and reports which can include information on state procedures, including bench warrants.
- Legal Services of Northern California: This site sometimes offers guides and articles about what to do if a bench warrant is issued against you in California.
- Berkeley Law Scholarship Repository: Search for scholarly articles and papers published by law professors and experts in the field.
- FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC): The NCIC database can contain information on outstanding warrants, including bench warrants. While you may not have access to the database, there are governmental reports summarizing its findings.