What is a Bench Warrant?
There are two common type of criminal warrant: an arrest warrant and a bench warrant. An arrest warrant is issued when there is probable cause to believe that criminal activity has occurred. A bench warrant is usually issued by a court when a party has failed to obey a court order – for example, failing to appear for a court appearance, or pay a fine. Bench warrants may also be issued for a violation of probation, failure to pay child support, or license suspension.
If you believe that a bench warrant exists for you – for example for unpaid traffic tickets – it’s in your best interest to find out about it now and deal with it. You can often track such information at the website for the court that issued the bench warrant. If you lack Internet access, call the courthouse clerk for information. That way, you can avoid the potential embarrassment of being arrested at work or home, or during a routine traffic stop.
Keep in mind that the government never forgets—and not taking care of this now can have far-reaching implications and consequences. You could be arrested, taken to jail, be required to post bond, go before a judge, get hit with all sorts of court fines, and have a blemish on your criminal record which could show up on employment or rental background checks.
What Do I Do?
You must immediately contact the county courthouse or the sheriff's department in the county you received the tickets from and ask if there are any outstanding warrants for you. You will need to provide your name, social security number and driver's license number. Keep in mind that there is a chance that, once they run your information, they may ask you to come in immediately and pay the appropriate fines. Alternatively, the court can send a sheriff to your home to arrest you. (If you are asked for a physical address, politely decline). In either case, you should either hire an attorney, or go as soon as possible to the courthouse yourself to handle the warrant.
If you get a helpful county worker, ask if your warrant is a bond warrant, or no-bond warrant. If you have a bond warrant you may be able to simply go to the courthouse and pay your fine. No-bond warrants are generally reserved for violent crimes, so a traffic ticket likely does not qualify. Ask the court clerk how you need to take care of the warrant, and they will tell you how much your bond is, and have you come in and pay it. Once you have paid your fine, and have the receipt to prove it, go to the courthouse and turn yourself in. This is an unpleasant experience, but will probably result in lower fines and less jail time. Better still, hire an attorney, and have him call the court and have your warrant quashed. While an attorney may cost a bit, the results will be well-worth it.