Thursday, August 4, 2011

What is a Bench Warrant?

While many people understand what a simple arrest warrant is, fewer are entirely sure of what constitutes a bench warrant. At the lowest level, a bench warrant is simply a mandate to appear before the court. They are complicated, very different from arrest warrants and definitively not something a person would want on their police record.

Unlike arrest warrants, which are issued by the police and approved by the courts, bench warrants are issued by individual judges. The most common reason why a judge would issue a bench warrant would be contempt of court.

For example, if a person is subpoenaed to testify during a trial but does not appear, then a bench warrant would be appropriate. Refusal to pay one’s child support is another reason that a bench warrant could be issues. To be able to file a bench warrant properly, the judge needs to demonstrate they have at least some understanding of the contempt which they feel calls for a warrant.

The term ‘bench warrant’ refers to the fact that a person who has been issued one is literally supposed to appear before ‘the bench.’ To maintain that the person would appear before the court, the police have the ability to force entry into the person’s home; however, the police officer needs to alert the individual that they are there before any forced entry.

In addition, if a person is issued a bench warrant, then the police have an obligation to ‘pick up’ the person at any time and they can be incarcerated until their court appearance. Additionally, people with bench warrants are not allowed to post bail, as they are considered ‘flight risks.’

At the simplest level; bench warrant is a variant of an arrest warrant that authorizes the immediate on-sight arrest of the individual subject to the bench warrant. On a larger scale, they a matter of ensuring court appearances and curtailing incidents of contempt of court.

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