Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Feb 6, 2020

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A bench warrant is an arrest warrant that is ordered by a judge against the defendant in a criminal case or a similar proceeding such as for a traffic ticket. A bench warrant is typically issued in the case of a failure to appear for trial, sometimes abbreviated “FTA.” The “bench” is the traditional term for the judge’s seat.

In serious criminal cases, a failure to appear will most likely lead to a regular arrest warrant, which would spur immediate attempts to find and jail the defendant. A bench warrant, on the other hand, usually does not mean the police will be at your door the next morning. But, your name will go into a statewide computer system that serves the entire law enforcement community. Once your name is in the database, if you have to deal with the police for any reason – even resulting from an incident that was not your fault, such as someone hitting your car from behind – you will be taken into custody for the outstanding bench warrant.

Once you are taken into custody, you will have to post bail before you can be released. Typically, bail on a bench warrant for failure to appear will be enough to cover the fines and court costs for both the original offense and the FTA. Then, you’ll get a new court date.

If you know that there is a bench warrant out for your arrest, you can usually call either the clerk of the court or the local police department and arrange to come in and pay the bail so that the warrant will be recalled. You should find out, when you call, what kinds of payments they will accept, since a paper check is almost always not good enough, and not all localities are able to take credit cards.

If you had posted bail before the missed court date, that money has almost certainly been forfeited at this point. If you had a very good reason why you weren’t at the court on time and didn’t call, you might be able to persuade the judge into letting you get that bail back, or at least having it credited against your fines and costs. Naturally, having an experienced criminal lawyer arguing on your behalf during this process will show the judge not only that you take the charges against you seriously, but also that you are genuinely contrite about your failure to appear.