California Penal Code 978.5 defines the conditions in which a judge may issue a bench warrant. Most often, this happens when a defendant violates court rules by failing to comply with a court order or appear at a designated time and place.
Once a judge issues a bench warrant, the police can treat it like a standard arrest warrant and use it to track you down, take you into custody and bring you back into court. This process may occur quickly, or it could take several days, weeks or months. The crucial thing to remember is that once you have a bench warrant out, you could get arrested anytime.
How Does a Bench Warrant Work?
Though a bench warrant doesn’t have to result from a criminal case, it can lead to a criminal charge. Typical violations that result in bench warrants include the following.
- Failure to attend a court date: If you decide to overlook your scheduled court appearance for any reason, it can lead to a bench warrant. A judge can issue one if you fail to appear for a traffic ticket or any court hearing, including an arraignment, pretrial conference, trial or sentencing.
- Neglecting to obey a court order: There are many types of court orders, including traffic fines and child support.
Ultimately, a judge issues a bench warrant to require you to appear in court. Once you’re there, they can choose to either release you with a warning or take you into custody. The decision depends on your criminal history and the court’s assessment of your flight risk.
The consequences of not appearing on your scheduled court date can be severe, including fines and penalties. You might lose your driver’s license in some cases. In others, you could remain in custody awaiting a new court date. Though bail may be available, the set amount may be significant.
Bench Warrant vs. Arrest Warrant
While a judge has sole discretion over whether to initiate the bench warrant process, an arrest warrant requires a police officer to gather sufficient evidence of criminal activity and establish a probable cause for arrest. Then, they must ask a judge to sign and issue an arrest warrant.
Not all arrests require a warrant. For example, if the police pull you over for violating traffic rules and find you have been driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, they can arrest you on the spot without taking time to obtain a warrant. The same rules apply if a law officer catches you in the act of committing a crime such as robbery or assault, particularly if you run away or try to resist arrest.
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Once there is a bench warrant with your name on it, the police can arrest you anytime and anywhere, including at home or work. However, in most cases, you will get a copy of the bench warrant notification in the mail, giving you a chance to appear voluntarily.
If you have missed your scheduled court date or failed to follow a court order, your best course of action is to retain an experienced criminal defense attorney. Since opening his private law practice 35 decades ago, Salvatore P. Ciulla has been successfully defending criminal cases in Orange County. If you are facing criminal charges, contact us today to learn more about your rights and representation.