A bench warrant is an arrest warrant issued from the bench by a judge in a misdemeanor case in open court. If a bench warrant is issued for you or a family member, it is highly recommended that you contact a Tampa criminal defense attorney to learn the best way to clear the warrant in the circumstances of your case.
Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law are experienced Hillsborough County criminal defense lawyers who will guide you through one of several available avenues to have the misdemeanor bench warrant(s) withdrawn in the least disruptive way.
We explain what a bench warrant is, why they are issued, what the possible consequences can be, and the ways bench warrants can be withdrawn.
Why Are Bench Warrants Issued?
Bench warrants can be issued by a judge for a few different reasons, most commonly for a person’s failure to appear (FTA) for a scheduled court hearing. A bench warrant could also be issued for an alleged probation violation, or for breaching a condition imposed as part of a person’s earlier release on bail.
Once a bench warrant is issued, the police or other law enforcement agents are authorized to arrest the person at any time. Unless the person named in the bench warrant takes action to address the warrant as soon as possible, they could be arrested during a brief traffic stop, at home, at work, or anywhere they are found. The public embarrassment and inconvenience of being plucked off the street, handcuffed, booked, and jailed, even if only briefly, is well worth avoiding if possible.
When a judge issues a bench warrant, the judge usually assigns a sum of money that will need to be posted as bail before the person is released from custody after their arrest. If the bail is not posted and no other steps are taken to have the warrant withdrawn, the person will remain in custody until they are presented in court. The amount of the bail will reflect the seriousness of the case for which the person failed to appear or for which they are on probation.
If the bench warrant is issued in a misdemeanor or other less serious case, the bail set on the warrant should be relatively low. However, if the judge sees a history of failure to appear or a long previous criminal record, a judge can set “no bail” to ensure the person is not released until they are brought before the court.
Felony Cases (Alias Capias)
Felony cases are different than less serious misdemeanor cases. In felony cases, when a defendant fails to appear, the warrant issued from the bench is called a “capias.” In felony cases, when a capias is issued, the court will not set bail on the warrant. The defendant will need to appear in court before being released.
What To Do If You Have a Bench Warrant
There are several ways in which a bench warrant can be cleared. Which one applies to your situation depends on the facts and circumstances of your individual case. To determine the best response, contact a criminal defense attorney whose daily work in the courts gives them the legal expertise to know what options are best for you.
If you do nothing and are arrested by the police, you will be rebooked into jail as if you were arrested on a new charge, processed through the medical and psychological assessment, and held in custody until bail is posted.
Vacate the Warrant Without Appearing in Court — In many cases, the reason someone fails to appear in court is because of a mistake in the process of notifying them to appear. Another common reason people miss court is the occurrence of some emergency. When a missed court appearance is the result of an innocent or unavoidable event, an experienced criminal defense lawyer can contact the judge’s clerk, explain the circumstances, and have the warrant withdrawn. A new court date can be assigned, and no immediate court appearance will be necessary.
Motion To Quash the Bench Warrant (Without Court Appearance) — If the circumstances are such that a bench warrant is issued and your immediate appearance in court is impractical (if you live in another state), your criminal defense lawyer could file a Motion to Quash the Bench Warrant. The attorney would present the facts of your case and your circumstances in court to get the warrant withdrawn and a new court date set. In some cases, depending on the nature of the case, your counsel may be able to resolve the entire matter without your appearance.
Motion to Surrender Without Being Booked at Jail — If the court denies counsel’s request to lift the bench warrant, you may still be able to avoid the discomfort of the jail booking process. Your lawyer can accompany you to court immediately and file a Motion to Surrender on the bench warrant. With you appearing before the court, in most cases, the warrant will be withdrawn, and your fingerprints and photo will be obtained to verify your identity without the full booking process.
Self-Arrest or Walk-Through Program
Because of the high number of bench warrants issued each year in Hillsborough County, the Sheriff’s Department established a program called “self-arrest” or “walk-through arrest.” This is a more convenient way to have a bench warrant withdrawn if you can post cash bail or have a bail bondsman post it for you immediately.
The program allows a person with a bench warrant to walk into a processing center with proper identification, be photographed, fingerprinted, post bail, and be released for a new court date without being fully booked into jail. The entire process can take two or three hours instead of the six or more hours the involuntary booking process would take. The self-arrest program is available from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm, Monday through Friday, except for holidays.
Learn More> All About Arrest Warrants
Always Consult an Experienced Tampa Criminal Defense Lawyer First
Before deciding what approach is the best for you to address a bench warrant in Hillsborough County, we encourage you to contact an experienced Tampa area criminal defense lawyer who can analyze the circumstances of your individual case.
Some people have more than one bench warrant from more than one county. If you are arrested in one county, or you attempt to self-arrest without knowing of other warrants, you will be held until you can be transported to the other counties where warrants are outstanding. These situations require a more comprehensive response to minimize or eliminate your risk of being held in custody.
If you have a bench arrest warrant against you, contact Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law for a case review; 813-280-1244. We are ready to defend your case.