Dealing With Bench Warrants for Traffic Tickets

What it means when a traffic court issues a bench warrant and how to take care of it if happens.

Traffic tickets aren't normally a big deal. You can contest the ticket in court, opt for traffic school, or admit guilt and pay the fine. In most states, you can resolve a ticket without even going to court. But if you ignore a ticket or fail to pay the fine on time, a ticket can become a real headache.

In many cases where a traffic offender doesn't properly deal with a ticket, the judge will issue a bench warrant. A bench warrant can lead to the driver's arrest, but it doesn't have to.

What Is a Bench Warrant?

A bench warrant gives law enforcement the authority to arrest you. But when a traffic court issues a bench warrant, police generally aren't going to immediately hunt you down just to arrest you on the warrant. Traffic warrants aren't exactly a high priority for most law enforcement agencies.

However, if you do happen to have contact with law enforcement, like if you're stopped for some other traffic offense, you're chances of going to jail for the warrant are pretty high. After being arrested, you'll have to wait in jail until you either post bail or you're brought into court and the judge "recalls" the warrant.

Avoiding Traffic Ticket Warrants in the First Place

Of course, it's best if you can avoid warrants altogether. But what happens if you don't have the ability to pay a traffic ticket fine?

Some people who receive tickets are reluctant to go to court because they don't have the money to pay a fine. But skipping out on court only makes matters worse. Even if you don't have the cash on hand to pay a traffic citation, by going to court and dealing with the situation, you can prevent the issuance of a warrant and late fees from increasing the amount you ultimately have to pay.

Judges are typically sympathetic when someone takes responsibility by coming into court and explaining his or her financial hardships. Normally options are available for motorists who can't afford to pay an expensive fine. Depending on the situation, the judge might be able to order traffic school, lower the fine, grant community service in lieu of the fine, or allow the motorist to make a payment plan.

How Do I Find Out if I have a Traffic Warrant?

The availability of warrant information differs by jurisdiction. In some jurisdictions, you can find out if you have an active warrant by checking the local law enforcement website. In other areas, you can inquire about warrants by calling law enforcement, the district attorney's office, or the court clerk's office.

But if you go to any of these sources in person, you certainly risk being arrest. So, it's usually best to try obtaining warrant information by phone or checking online resources—at least until you've talked to an attorney about how best to handle your situation.

Will a Bench Warrant Appear on a Background Check?

An active warrant (one that hasn't been resolved) will typically be visible on a background check. However, once a bench warrant has been recalled by a judge, a background check might not show the recalled warrant. However, failing to appear in court can lead to a new criminal charge. A criminal charge—especially if it results in conviction—is more likely to stay on your criminal record long-term.

Can I Fly If I Have a Traffic Warrant?

Although you might be able to go on a domestic flight without being arrested on an outstanding bench warrant, there are no guarantees. And if you're flying internationally, you're chances of being arrested or detained due to a bench warrant are much higher. In either case, it's best to resolve the warrant before you travel. That way, you don't have to worry about it.

How Do I Get Rid of a Traffic Ticket Warrant?

Getting rid of a traffic warrant generally requires resolving your ticket. When a person comes to court, the judge will typically recall the warrant. You might also be able to take care of a warrant by just paying your ticket. Procedures vary by jurisdiction, so it's a good idea to call the clerk of the court or talk to an attorney before doing anything.

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