Updated on August 22, 2022
If the police show up at your door saying that they have a bench warrant for your arrest, you may wonder, “What is a bench warrant?”
In a nutshell, a bench warrant is an order issued by the court for someone’s arrest. In most cases, Texas courts issue bench warrants after defendants fail to appear in court.
If the police have a bench warrant for your arrest, they can arrest you. After the arrest, you will be held in custody while awaiting your court hearing. If there is a bench warrant, you will most likely be charged with failure to appear in addition to the underlying criminal charges.
Fortunately, you may be able to defend yourself against the charge of failure to appear with the help of a Temple criminal defense lawyer. If the court issued a bench warrant after your failure to appear in court, you should take the situation very seriously as you may be convicted of a felony.
You need to have a basic understanding of what a bench warrant entails and what you need to do to rectify the situation. There are a variety of circumstances in which a Texas court can issue a bench warrant, but addressing the issue as quickly and efficiently as possible is always in your best interests.
What Is a Bench Warrant?
When a defendant violates or is believed to have disobeyed a court order, a judge will usually issue a bench warrant, which is an order for the defendant’s arrest.
A defendant is in violation of a court order if he or she fails to appear for a hearing or a court date. The violation can justify a bench warrant. In Texas, bench warrants are executed by law enforcement.
When a bench warrant is issued, the police will locate the defendant named in the warrant to arrest him or her. After the arrest, the defendant is held in jail as they wait for the court hearing. (Learn what to do if you are arrested.)
What’s the Difference Between a Bench Warrant and Other Warrants?
You may be familiar with other warrants issued by courts in Texas, including search warrants or arrest warrants. A bench warrant is not the same as a search or arrest warrant.
Bench Warrants and Search Warrants
While bench warrants give the police the power to take you into custody at any time, search warrants authorize law enforcement to search your home or other property.
Bench Warrants and Arrest Warrants
With both arrest and bench warrants, police are authorized to arrest the defendant whose name is on the warrant.
Arrest warrants are issued when there is a reasonable basis for believing that a crime may have been committed. If there is sufficient evidence implicating you as the person responsible, the court can issue a warrant for your arrest. An arrest warrant means that the police may be actively seeking your arrest.
A bench warrant, on the other hand, is less strict but can still lead to arrest. A bench warrant is typically issued by the judge when a defendant violated a court order. This violation can include missteps such as failure to appear or failure to pay child support.
While the police are not likely to seek your arrest over a bench warrant, if you are stopped for a traffic violation—or anything else—the bench warrant will come into play, and you can be arrested.
If you know that a bench warrant has been issued for your arrest, contact a Temple criminal defense lawyer right away. He or she can help you know what to expect and how to prepare a strong case for your defense.
How Is a Bench Warrant Issued?
In the State of Texas, a bench warrant may be issued by the judge for any number of reasons, including when the defendant commits any of these violations:
Failing to appear in court when scheduled to do so
Failing to respond to a ticket within 11 days of its issue
Failing to pay a fine assessed by a judge
Failing to complete a required Driving Safety Course without having an acceptable reason for doing so
Violating a probation term and having probation revoked
Defaulting on a payment arrangement set up through the court
Failing to comply with community service requirements
Failing to pay court-ordered alimony or child support
Being held in contempt of court for violating any type of court order, such as a restraining order
In other words, if you fail to comply with orders issued by the court, a judge can issue a bench warrant for your arrest.
When a defendant is represented by a skilled criminal defense attorney, they may be able to quash a bench warrant. It may even be possible to quash a bench warrant before it is executed. If the defendant and their lawyer can successfully resolve the alleged violation of the court order, the bench warrant will be recalled.
What Is Failure to Appear in Texas?
In Texas, when a defendant is arrested and charged with a criminal offense, they can be released from custody while awaiting trial. However, one of the terms of the release is to appear at the subsequent court dates.
A person can be charged with failure to appear when they intentionally miss the required court appearance and violate the terms of their release. Thus, a person may face failure to appear charges in addition to an underlying charge if they intentionally and knowingly fail to attend mandatory criminal court proceedings.
What Are the Possible Defenses to the Failure to Appear Charge?
There are two common defenses to the failure to appear charges in Texas:
I had a reasonable and justified excuse for my failure to appear in court.
My appearance was for parole, community supervision, or a sentence served intermittently.
In most cases, it is difficult to prove that you had a reasonable and justified excuse for failure to appear in court. Generally, the following excuses are not considered reasonable:
Your lawyer or someone else tells you not to appear.
You forgot your court date.
You were running late and decided not to appear at all.
You were too anxious or nervous to show up in court.
You changed your residence.
You had a doctor appointment.
You were working.
If you have been charged with failure to appear, consult with a Temple criminal defense attorney. He or she will help you determine if your excuse will be considered reasonable by the court.
What Are the Penalties for Failure to Appear in Texas?
When the judge issues a bench warrant as a result of your failure to appear, you may face serious penalties. The punishment for failure to appear depends on the underlying criminal offense. (Click here to learn more about your criminal charge.)
When your underlying offense is a felony, you will face a third-degree felony failure to appear charge, punishable by up to 10 years in jail and no more than $10,000 in fines.
Class C Misdemeanor
When your underlying offense is punishable by only a fine, your failure to appear will be classified as a Class C misdemeanor, which carries a fine of up to $500.
Class A Misdemeanor
For any other criminal offenses, failure to appear is charged as a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a jail sentence of up to a year and fines not exceeding $4,000.
These punishments come in addition to the penalties associated with the underlying offense.
Get a Free Consultation with a Temple Criminal Defense Lawyer
If the judge issued a bench warrant, or if you are facing failure to appear charges in Texas, talk to a criminal defense lawyer immediately. You need an effective defense strategy to avoid a conviction.
Our Temple criminal defense lawyers at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard can fight for the dismissal of your failure to appear charge and the underlying charges. Let our knowledgeable criminal attorneys protect your freedom and future—Call us at (254) 781-4222 or contact us online to receive a FREE consultation.