Warrants and What to Do About Them

Bench Warrants, Arrest Warrants, and how to deal with them.

There several types of warrants that you should be aware of in Massachusetts. One of the most common is what is known as a bench warrant. This is warrant ordered by a judge against you in a criminal or civil case. Such a warrant may be issued by a judge for a variety of reasons. Some of the most common are for failing to show up for a scheduled court date.

In the case of a more serious criminal case, failing to appear in court may lead to what is known as an arrest warrant. This type of warrant leads to immediate efforts to find and jail the defendant. But in the case of a bench warrant, in most cases the police will not actively search you out and arrest you.

Rather, for a bench warrant, your name goes into a database that services all of the law enforcement community. When your name is in that database, if you have any dealings with the police, you can be taken into custody on that outstanding bench warrant. This could include if you are a victim in a traffic accident, even if you were not at fault. The issuance of a bench warrant will also result in the suspension of your driver’s license.

When the court issues a warrant, a notice and copy of the warrant is mailed to the last address the court has for you.

In some cases, you may not have been aware that you had a warrant issued for your arrest because you have changed addresses. But note that even if you changed addresses and did not receive the court papers, you still are responsible to show up in court.

Release upon arrest on a warrant.

A bench warrant can be:

  • “Bailable”, which means that a bail clerk can set bail and release you to go to court if you are arrested on the warrant;
  • “Bailable for a specific amount”, which means the court that issued the warrant sets a bail amount which you must pay to be released if you are arrested on the warrant; or
  • “No bail”, which means that if you are arrested on the warrant, you will be held in custody until you are eventually brought to the court that issued the warrant.

If you are arrested on a warrant and you post bail, you will be given a “recognizance” form that says you must appear in the court that issued the warrant on a certain day at a certain time. This allows you to go free until you must show up in court on that day.

If you cannot post bail, or if the warrant is “no bail,” It can sometimes take several days for you to be brought to the court that issued the warrant if you are arrested in another court’s jurisdiction.

What to do if you learn there is a bench warrant for you.

If you are aware there is a bench warrant out for you, you can contact the clerk of court or the police department. Make arrangements to come in and pay bail so that the warrant is canceled. It is a good idea to learn how to pay the bail, because usually a personal check will not be enough, and not all localities take credit cards yet. A lawyer can help you with the process.

If you posted bail and then you missed the court date, that money has probably been forfeited. But, if you had a good reason for not being in court, you may in some cases be able to persuade the judge to reinstate that bail. Or, you might be able to have it credited towards your costs and fines. The best lawyers can sometimes have a bench warrant removed for you without you even appearing in court.

Having a Warrant Cleared.

A bench warrant can have many serious consequences, but it is possible to have this issue cleared up if the proper actions are taken. So, you should address the issues that led to the warrant as soon as you can. It is wise to have an experienced lawyer handle the case so that you can limit the consequences.

What Is the Difference Between an Arrest Warrant and a Bench Warrant?

A bench warrant is issued by a judge when you violate the rules of the court, such as for failure to appear. On the other hand, the arrest warrant process is handled by the police. The police file a statement telling the judge why you should be arrest, usually that you are thought to have committed a crime.

You usually will not know that there is an arrest warrant for you. If you do learn that there is one, you should contact a lawyer immediately so that he can negotiate how you will anser the warrant and limit the consequences of the arrest. Appearing on your own to answer for a warrant is always better, in the eyes of a judge, than being arrested on it. It shows that you are committed to defending yourself and showing up for court in the future. These are important factors when a judge is considering ordering bail in a case.