Bench Warrant vs Arrest Warrant: What's the Difference?

If you make a mistake and find yourself subject to a bench or arrest warrant in New Jersey, you might feel blindsided and unsure of what to expect. What is the difference between a bench warrant vs. arrest warrant anyway, and what could they mean for your future?

At Keith Oliver Criminal Law, we know how alarming it can be when a judge issues a bench or arrest warrant against you. We’re here to help you understand what these types of warrants do and how you can respond to them. To learn more, contact our firm for a free, confidential case review.

What Is a Bench Warrant?

A bench warrant is a type of warrant that judges or courts issue when someone fails to appear in court or follow a court order. The term “bench warrant” comes from the fact that judges issue these warrants from the bench during court proceedings. The person subject to a bench warrant is already part of an ongoing legal matter.

Judges can issue bench warrants in both criminal and civil cases. A judge might issue a bench warrant in a criminal case if the defendant fails to appear in court for a trial or hearing as scheduled. In a civil case, a judge might issue a bench warrant if someone does not comply with a court order or appear for a scheduled hearing.

Why Might I Receive a Bench Warrant?

Here are some common reasons why a judge might issue you a bench warrant as part of an ongoing legal proceeding:

  • You failed to appear in court for a hearing, trial, or other matter as scheduled.
  • You failed to comply with a court order, such as an order to pay a fine or complete court-ordered community service.
  • You failed to pay child support as required by court order.
  • You failed to comply with the terms of a child custody or visitation order.
  • You violated the conditions of your probation or parole.
  • You failed to appear for jury duty or comply with a subpoena to testify in court.
  • You failed to appear for a speeding ticket or other traffic violation.

What Is an Arrest Warrant?

The key differences between a bench warrant and an arrest warrant include why and how they are issued. Judges issue arrest warrants when there is probable cause to believe someone committed a crime.

Judges usually issue arrest warrants during criminal investigations before the police make any arrests. Both bench and arrest warrants give police officers the authority to arrest and detain individuals. But arrest warrants are based on evidence that the defendant committed a crime.

Why Might I Receive an Arrest Warrant?

Possible situations that could lead to a judge issuing an arrest warrant include:

  • The court suspects that you were involved in a crime, such as a disorderly persons offense or an indictable criminal offense.
  • You violated the terms of a protection order, restraining order, or other court-ordered injunction.
  • You fled the scene of a crime, escaped from police custody, or failed to report to a correctional facility or probation office.

How Do I Know If a Warrant Has Been Issued?

In some cases, the police or courts may contact you to inform you that you are the subject of a warrant. However, this is not always true. Law enforcement might not actively pursue you if the warrant is for a relatively minor offense or you are not considered a flight risk. But regardless of whether you hear from the authorities, having an outstanding warrant against you could have serious repercussions – including the possibility of imprisonment.

If you suspect you are the subject of a warrant, you could contact the police or courts for confirmation. But this isn’t always a good idea, as you could accidentally alert the police to your location or provide incriminating information about yourself. For these reasons, speaking with a trusted defense attorney who can protect your rights and investigate the situation on your behalf is better.

What Happens When a Judge Issues a Bench Warrant?

If a judge issues a bench warrant in your name, the following often happens afterward:

  • Law enforcement receives the warrant – Once a judge issues the bench warrant, law enforcement will receive a notification of the warrant.
  • Arrest and detention or voluntary surrender – If the police choose to look for you, they might arrest and detain you. Similarly, the police could arrest you if they encounter you by chance, such as during a routine traffic stop. You could also voluntarily surrender yourself via walk-in to avoid arrest.
  • A mandatory court appearance – Whether or not you are arrested, you must appear before the court for a hearing. If the court is unsatisfied with your reasons for non-compliance, you could face penalties like fines or jail time.
  • Resolution of the bench warrant – You must comply with the original court order that resulted in the bench warrant and any additional penalty orders to resolve the outstanding bench warrant.

What Do I Do If I Might Be Subject to a Bench Warrant?

If you think you might be subject to a bench warrant in New Jersey, you can take the following steps to protect your legal rights:

  • Check online court records or consult with an attorney to confirm whether there are any outstanding warrants in your name.
  • Address the underlying issue that led to the bench warrant by paying fines, completing community service, or fulfilling other requirements.
  • Work with a defense lawyer who can advise you of your options and help you through the legal process.

Contact the New Jersey Criminal Defense Lawyers at Keith Oliver Criminal Law

When you’re ready to speak to an attentive and compassionate defense attorney about your case, don’t hesitate to contact Keith Oliver Criminal Law. Our team is standing by to listen to your story and answer your questions during a free consultation.

Author: Keith G. Oliver

Founding partner Keith G. Oliver has a passion for helping people who are caught up in the criminal justice system. He believes that everyone has a right to be presumed innocent, and that one mistake shouldn’t define a person forever. This passion drives Mr. Oliver to tirelessly fight for his clients and pursue the best possible outcome in every case.