Arrest Warrant vs. Bench Warrant

Instructor: Millicent Kelly

Millicent has been teaching at the university level since 2004. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice and a Master's degree in Human Resources.

A legal authority such as a magistrate can issue different types of warrants. Two such warrants are arrest and bench warrants. This lesson will discuss these warrants and explain how they differ by providing relevant examples.

Showing up to Court

David was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. David's court date to answer to these charges was one week ago, but the problem is, David never showed up. The judge did not hesitate and ordered a bench warrant to be issued for David to be brought in, and answer to the charges. Two law enforcement officers are dispatched to David's home and bring David in front of the judge where he now faces additional charges of failing to appear in court.

What are Warrants?

Warrants are legal documents that are typically issued by a judge or other person who has legal authority. There are several different types of warrants that can be issued in both criminal and civil matters. Regardless of the type of warrant issued, the issuance has to comply with the protections of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which requires that all warrants be based on the underlying assumption of probable cause. Probable cause refers to the fact that there is a reasonable underlying reason as the why the warrant should be issued.

Arrest Warrants

Arrest warrants are warrants that are requested by law enforcement authorities who have probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed, and want to detain the suspect. Say for example that a local convenience store owner is robbed at gunpoint. Law enforcement officers are dispatched to investigate the scene, and in the process review surveillance video which shows the perpetrators entering the store and demanded cash from the owner. One of the officers reviewing the video recognizes one of the suspects as someone he arrested a few months back in another robbery case. He obtains his name from the case file and requests an arrest warrant so the suspect can be apprehended. The warrant is granted because the officer has probable cause to believe the suspect was responsible for committing the crime.

Bench Warrants

Although often confused with arrest warrants, bench warrants serve a different purpose. As with any warrant, to obtain a bench warrant, probable cause has to be demonstrated in compliance with the Fourth Amendment which protects the privacy of United States citizens. Like an arrest warrant, a bench warrant allows a law enforcement officer to legally detain individuals. However, the reason for detention is not directly related to involvement in a criminal activity. Instead, bench warrants are issued when a defendant fails to show up for their court appearance.

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