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Bench Warrant Hearing: What to Expect (2024 Guide)

A bench warrant hearing is a court proceeding held to address the issuance of a bench warrant, which is a type of arrest warrant issued by a judge, typically for failure to appear in court, failure to comply with a court order, or similar reasons.
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What is a Bench Warrant?

According to McKenzie Law, a bench warrant signifies that a judge has authorized the arrest of a defendant [1]. Typically, this occurs when the individual fails to appear in court on a specified date, especially after being charged with a crime.

Once a judge issues a bench warrant, law enforcement may treat it like any other warrant. This usually means seeking out the subject of the warrant for arrest. If you discover you have a bench warrant out, it is a good idea to get a lawyer and turn yourself in as soon as possible. Some people believe they can evade a bench warrant, but those people are almost always wrong – McKenzie Law.

This type of warrant is known as a bench warrant for failure to appear. However, a judge can also issue a bench warrant for other violations of court rules.

Also Read: Turning Yourself In for a Misdemeanor Warrant

What Happens During a Bench Warrant Hearing?

According to Greg Hill, the approach to addressing a bench warrant depends on the reason why the judge issued it [2]. There are typically three main categories of reasons for a bench warrant, although some less common reasons exist.

The first category of reasons is because defendant failed to appear at his or her arraignment. The second is when defendant did show up in court for the arraignment, but then stopped appearing and the judge issued a bench warrant. The last, and perhaps most common category is when defendant resolved the case, i.e. through a plea bargain, or through a trial to a verdict and then defendant failed to appear in court for a progress hearing or proof of enrollment hearing or failed to pay a court fine or fee – Greg Hill stated.

Resolving each type of bench warrant involves different strategies and considerations. For cases in the first category, where a defendant missed their arraignment, it’s crucial to determine if the defendant posted bail and, if so, when. Bail agreements with bail bondsmen typically last for a year, so if more than a year has passed, the defendant may need to renew the bail contract.

Additionally, it’s important to consider whether the case is a misdemeanor or felony. In California, an attorney can often appear on behalf of a client for misdemeanor cases under Penal Code § 977(a). However, there are exceptions, particularly for DUI cases, where judges increasingly require the defendant’s presence.

For felony cases, the defendant generally must appear in court with their attorney, unless they previously signed a waiver of personal appearance under Penal Code § 977(b) allowing the attorney to appear on their behalf.

Also Read: Felony Warrant in Another State?

How to Clear a Bench Warrant Without Going to Jail

Your attorney can argue that the bench warrant should be cleared for various reasons, such as:

  • You did not receive the initial notice to appear.
  • You were unaware that a case had been filed against you.
  • You believed you had complied with the court order.
  • There was a case of mistaken identity.
  • You are not a flight risk or likely to commit another crime.

The process of addressing a bench warrant is often referred to as “clearing,” “lifting,” or “recalling” the warrant. To resolve a bench warrant, you typically need to appear in court, where the judge will decide whether you will be taken into custody.

Here’s what you should do:

Obtain Legal Representation: As soon as you become aware of the bench warrant, seek the assistance of an attorney who specializes in criminal defense and warrants. A skilled attorney can guide you through the process and advocate on your behalf in court, increasing your chances of avoiding jail time.

Surrender to the Warrant: After hiring an attorney, you should arrange to surrender to the warrant in the jurisdiction where it was issued. This process involves booking into jail, but in some cases, you may be able to surrender during specific hours, pay a bond, and be released pending a court date. Some jurisdictions, like Oklahoma County, offer programs that allow for a same-day surrender and arraignment without immediate arrest.

Present Your Case in Court: Once you’ve surrendered, you’ll be given a new court date to argue your case. If your bench warrant is from a felony case or is for a probation violation, you’ll need to appear in court, although you can have an attorney with you. If your bench warrant is because you failed to appear or didn’t pay a fine in a misdemeanor case, you can have an attorney appear in court for you.

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