I Have a Bench Warrant in Pennsylvania- What Should I Do?
By: Dave Mueller, Criminal Defense Attorney
Few situations can cause anxiety and sleepless nights like being wanted by the law. Whether for unpaid parking tickets or serious felony charges, the reality of an outstanding arrest warrant hangs over every aspect of daily life. Everything from the most minor traffic stop to a targeted enforcement effort by police can bring home a very hard reality: hand cuffs, jail cells, and time spent in jail waiting to see a judge for even a minor warrant. For those in this situation, the only way to address the issue and get back to daily life is to retain an experienced criminal defense attorney, who can help to address the issue as soon as possible in the best possible way.
What is a Bench Warrant?
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. Bench warrants are generally issued when a person who is under an order to appear in court fails to comply with that court order (e.g.- violating bail conditions). Although bench warrants are most often issued against criminal defendants, 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). 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 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 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 can be 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, the judge’s discretion will determine whether an individual is released or held in jail.
A Bench Warrant Has Been Issued Against Me – What Should I Do?
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. In the modern information age, it is virtually impossible to outrun an existing warrant, and ignoring a warrant can lead to significant consequences. As a general rule, an outstanding warrant will almost always catch up to you at the worst possible time, and the consequences of ignoring it get worse with every day on the run.
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. When you do appear before a judge, an attorney can help you come up with a strategy to appropriately explain the situation the 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. That last part is critical, as a criminal defense attorney will also make sure that nothing occurs at a bench warrant hearing 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.
If you have, or someone you know, is subject to an active warrant in Pennsylvania, contact us immediately for a consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Only your attorney can help you create a plan to address the issues of the past while securing your future.