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Bench Warrants can turn a Traffic Stop into Jail Time

Police Traffic Stop

Right now there are more than 680,000 active warrants in California.[1] Most of them are bench warrants. If you have a bench warrant, a routine traffic stop can turn into jail time.

What is a bench warrant?

A judge can issue a bench warrant if you violate the rules of the court. The most common reason for issuing a bench warrant is failing to appear in court when required. This includes not appearing for an arraignment, trial, sentencing, when subpoenaed to testify, or any other court date where an appearance is required.

Other reasons for issuing a bench warrant include:

  • Not paying child support in accordance with a court ruling
  • Defaulting on a judgment
  • Not showing up when summoned for jury duty
  • Violating probation requirements
  • Being indicted by a grand jury
  • Failing to pay a court fine on time
  • Not completing a court-ordered educational program
  • Committing a crime or otherwise failing to comply with conditions of bail
  • Failure to appear for review of a progress report such as for drug court
  • Any other violation of a court order

You might have violated the rules of the court, often without even realizing it. The notice to appear may have been sent to the wrong address. Perhaps you moved before it was mailed. You may not even realize that charges have been filed against you or you thought they had been dismissed.

What are the potential consequences of a bench warrant?

Bench warrants typically don’t expire. They remain active until you die or until you are pulled over for anything from speeding to having a broken tail light. Then the police look you up in the system, see that you have a warrant, and arrest you on the spot. You can be held without bond until the court schedules a hearing and you go before the judge. A judge can impose a jail sentence or fines and even suspend your driver’s license if you are found guilty of failure to appear or contempt of court.

If you were released on bond or on your own recognizance, the judge can change the conditions of your release, revoke or increase your bond, and even hold you in jail until your case is completed. If you failed to appear in court for a felony charge, the potential fines and jail or state prison penalties are severe.

Regardless of the reason for the bench warrant, it’s considered a criminal charge and will remain on your record after it has been dismissed.

How do you know if there is a warrant for your arrest?

  • If you think there is a federal warrant outstanding, you can contact the federal court for your district.
  • Call a local bail bondsman. They often have access to the county database containing active arrest warrants.
  • Read any existing court documents you may have. They will stipulate what could trigger the issuance of a warrant, for example, if you fail to perform a certain duty. If you have failed to perform that duty, you can assume that a warrant has been issued.
  • Contact the clerk of courts. They maintain a record of all court proceedings in your jurisdiction. Their office will have information about whether or not a warrant has been issued, as well as what you must do to clear the warrant.
  • Check your mail. This is often how the clerk of courts or sheriff notifies people that a warrant has been issued. Usually, these letters are sent using certified mail and will often require a signature acknowledging receipt.
  • Talk to your lawyer. He or she will be notified if a bench warrant has been issued for you. Your lawyer will also know what you should do to clear the warrant.

What should you do if you find out you have a bench warrant?

The first thing you should do is contact a criminal attorney. They can help you prove your innocence and resolve the warrant. Don’t wait. If a judge has issued a bench warrant for you, the police can take you into custody at any time – at a routine traffic stop, at your home or office, or when you appear at court on another matter. You don’t want that possibility hanging over your head. A good attorney can work with the court to resolve the issue in a way that is better for you. If you think you may have a bench warrant, contact us for a free consultation today.

“California Arrest Warrant & Court Records Search.” California Arrest Warrants,, 12 Nov. 2019,

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