Why are warrants issued?

Courts and law enforcement agencies issue warrants for the purpose of having someone personally come in to the police station or court to answer for some sort of charge. Sometimes that charges is simply a failure to appear (FTA) in court.

Bench Warrant:

If a person fails to appear after receiving a valid summons for a criminal or civil case, the judge may issue a bench warrant. A bench warrant is a command from the court for law enforcement to go find and bring an individual before the court, where the issue can hopefully be resolved and the warrant lifted. Bench warrant can be issued to anyone who has been ordered to appear in court, not just those who are parties to a case. So if a witness fails to appear in court, it is possible that a bench warrant will issue. It is important to note that a judge is not necessarily required to issue a bench warrant for a failure to appear. A judge may simply reschedule the court date, or proceed without the person who failed to appear. If you are a witness and have received a subpoena or summons to appear in court, you should seek the advice of an independent attorney regarding your rights. Our office regularly advises witnesses regarding their rights, and we are happy to help you provided you are not involved with a case in which we already represent another person or organization.

If you are charged with a crime and fail to appear in court as required, with a few exceptions, the judge in your case is very likely to issue a bench warrant. Failing to appear if you are out on bond is also likely to violate the bond, meaning it can be revoked and the judge may be less likely to allow you a bond again. If the judge decides you are unlikely to come to court when required, he or she may raise your bond so high that you have to remain in custody until your case is resolved.

Arrest Warrant:

An arrest warrant is a document in which a court authorizes a law enforcement agency to make an arrest of the person named in the warrant. These can arise from any number of situations, and the law is supposed to favor requiring a warrant prior to an arrest. Of course, many arrests occur without warrants, but additional requirements must be met for such an arrest to be legal. If you were arrested without a warrant, be sure to discuss the event with an attorney to verify that the conditions of a warrantless arrest were met.

Because arrest warrants can arise from a huge variety of circumstances and charges, sometimes an accused will not be aware that an arrest warrant is active. Some never know an arrest warrant was issued. This situation often arises after a traffic ticket goes unresolved. An arrest warrant can just sit there for decades unknown to the accused. Police do not always make these a high priority, or may simply give up after a single visit to the home, if the warrant is not based upon a an accusation they consider serious. This doesn’t make the warrant any less of a problem, as being pulled over or contacted by the police at any point with an active arrest warrant will result in an arrest.

Clearing a Warrant:

Clearing a warrant usually requires that the accused turn themselves in at a police station or in court. Different jurisdictions have different procedures for handling warrant turn-ins. Typically, if a person turns themselves in to the police, they will be taken into custody and booked into jail until such time as they are able to get in front of a judge. If a standard bond is set for the charges that gave rise to the warrant, the accused may be able to simply pay the bond, or pay the bond through a bail bondsman, and leave with a new court date assigned. If there is no standard bond set, the accused will be brought before a judge who will then set the bond. In some cases, and depending on the discretion of the police, the accused may simply be given a ticket with a new court date and released without being booked into the jail.

Sometimes it is possible to shortcut this process by turning oneself in directly to the judge. Judges often have discretion to simply clear the warrant and set a new court date. Many factors can influence whether this option is available, or is even the best idea, including the judge the accused is assigned to, how long the accused has been absent, what the charges are, history of failures to appear, and the ability of the court to fit the case in on a given day.


If you are aware of an unresolved warrant, call our office at (720) 201-3802 to discuss the specific facts of your case.