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 failure to appear charge 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.
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/her. After the arrest, the defendant is held in jail as they wait for the court hearing.
What is Failure to Appear in Texas?
In Texas, a person can be charged with failure to appear when they are released from custody on the condition that they will appear at a court date but intentionally miss a court appearance and violate the terms of the release.
Thus, a person may face failure to appear charges in addition to an underlying charge. 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.
If the defendant intentionally and knowingly fails to attend mandatory criminal court proceedings, they can be charged with failure to appear in addition to the initial charge.
What Are the Possible Defenses to the Failure to Appear Charge?
There are two most common defenses to the failure to appear charges in Texas:
I had a reasonable and justified excuse for my failure to appear in court; and
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; or
You were working.
What’s the Difference Between a Bench Warrant and Other Warrants?
You may be familiar with other warrants issued by courts in Texas, including a search and arrest warrant. A bench warrant is not the same as an arrest or search warrant.
Search vs. bench warrant. 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.
Arrest vs. bench warrant. With both arrest and bench warrants, police are authorized to arrest the defendant whose name is on the warrant. The difference between the two warrants is that arrest warrants are issued when there is a reasonable basis for believing that a crime may have been committed, while bench warrants are used when a defendant violated a court order.
A bench warrant may be issued by the judge when the defendant:
Fails to appear in court
Fails to pay court-ordered alimony or child support
Is held in contempt of court for violating court orders
When a defendant is represented by a skilled criminal defense attorney, they may be able to quash a bench warrant. Essentially, it means recalling the bench warrant when the defendant and their lawyer can successfully resolve the alleged violation of the court order.
Note: It may be possible to quash a bench warrant before it is executed.
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.
Third-degree felony. 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 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. (Click here to learn more about your criminal charge)
Our Temple criminal defense lawyers at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard can fight for the dismissal of your failure to appear and the underlying charges. Let our knowledgeable criminal attorneys protect your freedom and future—Call 254-501-4040 or contact us online to receive a free consultation.