A bench warrant is a kind of order a judge issues in a case. If you failed to follow instructions from the judge, the bench warrant tells law enforcement to arrest you whenever an officer sees you.
This is different from an arrest warrant which is an order from a judge that gives law enforcement the right to search your personal belongings or property. The judge may issue this warrant if they suspect you committed a crime. The bench warrant is directly related to some action you failed to complete in your case.
Reasons for a Bench Warrant
Certain legal circumstances can lead a judge to issue a warrant from the bench. Examples of such circumstances include:
- Failure to appear for an arraignment
- Failure to appear for a trial
- Failure to appear for sentencing
- Failure to pay a court fine
- Failure to follow the conditions of your bail agreement
- Failure to follow the rules of your probation agreement
- Being indicted by a grand jury
Some other legal situations can also lead a judge to issue a bench warrant against you.
You may not have been issued a bench warrant yet. If you missed a court date or failed to pay a court-ordered fine, so long as you contact a lawyer soon, the lawyer may be able to set up a hearing before the court issues the warrant in the first place.
How Can I Clear the Bench Warrant?
Many times, simply completing the judge’s requested action will lead to them removing the bench warrant.For example, if the judge issued the warrant because of your failure to appear for arraignment in a criminal case, you can have the warrant cleared by agreeing to appear before the judge for the arraignment.
Sometimes, it can be enough for your hired attorney to appear on your behalf in front of the judge. This can lead to the judge dropping the bench warrant.Other times, though, the judge may choose to send you to jail with or without bail.
Understanding Your Options
If you are confused by the issuance of a bench warrant against you, hiring a trustworthy defense attorney may help. You can ask the attorney questions and have the attorney negotiate on your behalf with the court and with prosecutors toward an acceptable outcome for your case.
It is possible that a miscommunication between you and the court led to the bench warrant. It’s also possible that circumstances beyond your control led to an issue that results in the warrant.
Your defense attorney can explain this issue on your behalf, potentially clearing up the problem. Items that can lead to a miscommunication or a missed court date include:
- Having the wrong address to contact you on file with the court
- Missing a court date because of an accident or illness
- Having the charges against you improperly explained
- Not understanding the steps you need to follow to comply with the court’s orders
Bench Warrant Dismissal
There are time restrictions for bench warrants. If the warrants aren’t served in a reasonable time after they’re issued, they may be dismissed.
If your bench warrant is not served soon after its issuance, it may be dismissed. You shouldn’t count on this, but if your bench warrant hasn’t been served yet, it may be dismissed soon.
You have the right to a quick trial, and a lawyer will defend this right. You see your warrant dismissed.
Treating the Bench Warrant Seriously
Any time a bench warrant is issued, it must be taken seriously. If law enforcement must take you into custody because of a bench warrant, it could lead to a dangerous situation for you or any loved ones who are with you.
Additionally, if you are driving and are arrested on a bench warrant after law enforcement pulls you over in your car, your vehicle could be impounded, leading to additional costs and hardships.
Ignoring a bench warrant can lead to additional charges being filed against you as well. We recommend that you get prepared to legally defend yourself, especially if circumstances beyond your control led to the reason you missed your court date.
A defense attorney can help you understand the serious nature of this type of warrant.
What Happens When a Bench Warrant is Issued?
In Pennsylvania, once your bench warrant is issued:
- The warrant is sent over to the county office
- The county office makes records of the information in the bench warrant
- The county office sends these records to law enforcement agencies throughout Pennsylvania (If you were approved for extradition, your information may be sent to law enforcement agencies throughout the U.S.)
- The county office gathers and distributes information about were you could be found by the authorities
What Happens When a Bench Warrant is Served?
If your bench warrant isn’t recalled, you may face the following penalties:
- After the police make contact with you, they may arrest you for your outstanding bench warrant
- You may be detained in jail (You can be released if someone pays your bail or a bond)
- If you cannot pay your bail or the bond, you might be presented to a judge
- If you’re presented to a judge, the judge may keep you in custody (The judge may hold a hearing or release you and set a court date)
- If your bench warrant was for neglecting to appear in court, you might be charged with a misdemeanor (You may have a defense against this charge if you couldn’t attend court for reasons out of your control)
- If you neglected to appear in court for a felony charge, you may face a fine, jail time, or a prison sentence
You could face other, similar penalties for an offense like neglecting to pay a fine.
Who Serves Bench Warrants in Pennsylvania?
The Bench Warrants Division of the county’s government serves bench warrants. This division has many duties, including:
- Processing bench warrants issued by local judges and district magistrates
- Conducting certain investigations
- Providing fingerprinting services for certain purposes
- Locating fugitives
- Making arrests
What Qualifies as Actual Notice of a Bench Warrant
When a bench warrant is served, the person in question must receive “actual notice” of their need to appear in court or produce documents in court. Actual notice can be:
- A court order handed directly to the person by a court employee or a competent adult
- A receipt for a court order
- Notice mailed to the person’s home
If you believe you didn’t receive actual notice, you may be confused about whether or not you need to go to court. You should speak with a lawyer about this.
Your Next Steps in Dealing With Your Bench Warrant
If a warrant has been issued against you by a judge from the bench, consider taking proactive measures. It is possible the warrant was issued in error, but still, you should not ignore it.
By turning yourself in before you are arrested, the judge may be more willing to listen to your description of the events that led to the missed court date, drug test, or other court-ordered action you failed to complete. Your attorney can help you with these steps.
Many counties in Pennsylvania will allow residents to check on the status of active bench warrants. You or your attorney may be able to call the local sheriff’s department or check the county’s website to check the status of a potential bench warrant.
Connect With Our Law Firm Today
Consider hiring a defense attorney from our firm to help you take care of your bench warrant well before it results in an arrest. The right lawyer can negotiate on your behalf, perhaps clearing the warrant before an arrest takes place. You may or may not have to appear before the judge, as the attorney can sometimes appear on your behalf.
Call McKenzie Law Firm, P.C., for a free consultation about your bench warrant in Pennsylvania. We take pride in being accessible to our clients, responding quickly to communication through social media, text, phone calls, and email. Call us at for a free consultation.