What is a Bench Warrant? - Definition & Statute of Limitations

Instructor: Amanda Smith

Amanda has taught adult cognitive-behavioral programs in a corrections setting for the last ten years and has a bachelor's degree in Sociology/Criminology.

What happens to a person that does not show up for a scheduled court date? This lesson will explain how a bench warrant is used, the statue of limitations, and provide examples.

What is a Bench Warrant?

Leon gets into an altercation with a friend and the police are called. Instead of arresting Leon, the police officer issues him a ticket for disorderly conduct and gives him a court date.

After a long night, Leon tosses his jacket on the floor, forgetting that the ticket is in his pocket and he misses the court date. After he fails to appear in court, the judge issues a bench warrant for Leon.

A bench warrant is issued by a judge when a person does not report to court as scheduled, usually for a minor offense like a ticket or not following court conditions. In fact, that's how the bench warrant got it's name. Literally, the person did not appear on the 'bench' to see the judge.

Different from an arrest warrant, a bench warrant will not send the police looking for a person. An arrest warrant is issued in more serious cases and the police will actively seek the suspect. Because a bench warrant never expires, it has no statue of limitations.

A bench warrant is entered into a statewide database that can be searched by law enforcement. It gives the authority to arrest the person and bring them to court.

Two weeks later, Leon is pulled over for speeding. The officer runs a check on Leon's driver's license and the bench warrant shows up. He is arrested and will wait in jail for a court date to address both the original ticket for disorderly conduct and the speeding ticket.

Bench warrants are usually issued when a person fails to appear in court

After a Bench Warrant is Issued

Once a bench warrant is issued, the only way to make it go away is to appear before the court. If a person knows that they have a warrant on them, they can contact the local authorities where the warrant was issued and make a plan to take care of it.

They may be allowed to pay the bail and receive a new court date. If the person is released after posting bail and fails to appear at the new court date, an arrest warrant may be issued.

Another Example

Tom is drinking with his friends and gets a little out of hand outside of the bar. The police are called, but the officer decides to issue a citation for public intoxication instead of arresting him. He sends him home with a sober friend. Tom loses the ticket before he gets home and misses the court date.

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