Complete Guide To Bench Warrants In Pennsylvania

It’s possible that you or someone you know will face a bench warrant in their lifetime. When a bench warrant is issued, it can cause panic and confusion until it is cleared up. For this reason, it’s important to understand what bench warrants are, and how and when they are issued. 

The following will provide you with an overview of the most important things to understand about Pennsylvania bench warrants. A bench warrant is a serious matter that must be addressed quickly and correctly to help you avoid major penalties and fines. Here’s what you need to know.


What Is A Bench Warrant

A bench warrant is basically an order from a court, directing that a person be arrested and brought before the court to answer for some issue. Bench warrants are generally issued when a person who is under an order to appear in court fails to comply with that order. In the criminal system, this often occurs when a person allegedly fails to appear for a scheduled hearing, fails to comply with a bail condition, or fails to comply with a probation condition. In Pennsylvania, a bench warrant is a court order directing any law enforcement officer who has contact with a named person to arrest that person on sight.

Although bench warrants are most often issued against criminal defendants, it’s important to note that the court has the power to issue a bench warrant for anyone who fails to appear pursuant to a court order. For example, failure to appear when subpoenaed as a witness could result in a bench warrant for that person. 

When a person who is subject to a bench warrant comes into contact with a law enforcement officer, that officer is required to take that person into custody immediately, and has no discretion to release that person without permission from the court that issued the warrant.

What Is A Failure To Appear In Pennsylvania?

If a defendant or witness in a case fails to appear for court, Pennsylvania law permits the court to issue a bench warrant. The issuance of a warrant is not necessarily a finding that the person has done anything wrong, but rather an order to bring that person before the court to explain why they did not appear. 

In some circumstances, the authorities may also charge the person with the crime of “default in required in appearance,” which can be a misdemeanor or even a felony. This is a criminal offense, occurring when someone willfully fails to appear for a scheduled hearing while at liberty on a criminal charge. The penalty for violating this section can be up to 7 years in prison. 

How To Handle A Failure To Appear In A Criminal Case

If you have been charged with a crime, even something as minor as a traffic ticket, you may receive a summons to appear in court. A summons is a legal document that commands your appearance in a specific court, at a specified date and time. If you fail to appear in court, exactly as it is directed in the summons, the judge will issue a warrant for your arrest and you will forfeit any bond you had posted.

Mistakes happen, and there may be legitimate reasons that a court date is missed. Sometimes, errors by the court might mean that a person did not even know that a court date was schedule. However, once a warrant is issued, you must appear before the court to explain the failure to appear, or risk being arrested on the bench warrant. If you have missed your court date, the best thing to do is immediately contact your attorney and explain why you missed your court date. Your lawyer can help you explain to the court why the court date was missed, and potentially save you from arrest. 

The sooner your lawyer contacts the court to address the situation, the better chance you have that the judge will withdraw the warrant,no charge you with the separate crime of failing to appear for court, and be more understanding and reasonable in sentencing you.


What Happens If I Am Issued A Bench Warrant?

If you find out that a bench warrant has been issued against you, the first thing to know is that the problem will not go away on its own. There is no time limit for court issued bench warrants. There are also few geographic limits. In the modern connected era, a bench warrant will follow you anywhere in the United States, and it can follow you anywhere in the world. 

It is virtually impossible to outrun an existing warrant, and ignoring a warrant can lead to significant consequences. An outstanding warrant will almost always catch up to you, likely at the worst possible time, and the consequences of ignoring it get worse with every day that passes until it is addressed. If a police officer discovers an outstanding warrant, the officer has no choice but to arrest you, and cannot let you go.

The best way to deal with this situation is to immediately contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. In many cases, an attorney can schedule an appearance before a court that will allow you to see a judge and address a warrant without being arrested. The sooner you appear, the easier it may be to explain to the court why you did not appear, and the better your lawyer’s argument will be to have you released. This is why it is important to act quickly and decisively to address an outstanding warrant. 

When you do appear before a judge, an attorney can help you come up with a strategy to appropriately explain the situation that led to the warrant, and how to share information with the court to ensure the judge that you can be trusted to appear in the future. This may include advising you on ways to proceed in your underlying case. Most importantly, a criminal defense attorney will work to ensure that is done or said at a bench warrant hearing that will harm your interests in an underlying criminal case. Once the warrant is resolved, your attorney can work with you to form a plan to address any underlying case going forward.


What Happens If I Am Arrested On A Bench Warrant?

When a person subject to a warrant is arrested, that person is held in detention until they are brought before the court that issued the warrant. In some cases, such as when a person is arrested locally during a business day, the arresting department may take that person directly in front of the judge, and the warrant can be addressed within hours. However, in many cases, such as when the person is arrested on a weekend, or arrested in a different county, it is not unusual to wait in jail for several days before the warrant is addressed. If the arrest occurs out of state, the person may be held in jail in the arresting state until extradition proceedings are completed, which can take weeks or even months.

Once the person is brought before the court, the court will lift the warrant, but the court will also hold a hearing to decide whether the person will be released or detained in jail pending a new court hearing. In some cases, the court may set cash bail at this point, requiring the person to post money in order to be released on bail. At this point, it is at the judge’s discretion whether an individual is released or held in jail.


How Colgan & Associates Can Help You Today

If you or someone you know is subject to an active warrant in Pennsylvania, contact Colgan & Associates immediately. We will provide a no-cost, no-obligation consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Before you do anything, it’s important that you speak to a legal professional who can help you understand your rights and layout your best steps for resolving this matter quickly and fairly. Call us at (717) 790-2048.

  1. Dawn McKinney says:

    I am trying to clear up an old warrent for James Paul Webb, his license is issued in maryland but reicieved a speeding ticket about six years ago. I have tried case search and a friend who is a is the law field to try to find the faliure to appear bench warrent to take care of it but it is impossible to find. Please help us clear this up

  2. Andy Tyahla says:

    Thank you for your time and consideration with my dilemma

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