Arrest Warrants vs. Bench Warrants

Legal concepts can often be nebulous and/or confusing.  People encounter this when a court issues warrants in their name.  A warrant is simply an order given by a court or other government entity empowering and authorizing someone (typically the police) to carry out some action.  

Warrants are issued all the time and for a variety of reasons.  Some of the most common warrants include arrest warrants and bench warrants.  People sometimes confuse these two types of warrants but they actually serve two very different purposes.

What is an Arrest Warrant?

An arrest warrant is an order issued by a judge or other government entity authorizing the immediate arrest of an individual. Arrest warrants are issued as a result of a grand jury indictment or if law enforcement has probable cause that a person has committed a crime.  Probable cause or PC is a legal phrase meaning there is enough evidence to indicate someone has committed a crime.

Arrest warrants are typically issued only after there is an investigation of some kind performed by law enforcement.  An investigation is needed to uncover probable cause. Once law enforcement determines a crime has been committed, they have a judge or magistrate generate a formal document that is the arrest warrant.  This gives the law enforcement entity authority to arrest an individual.

What is a Bench Warrant?

A bench warrant is also a formal document authorizing the immediate arrest and detention of an individual however it is not issued for the same reasons as an arrest warrant.  A judge does not need probable cause like he/she does for an arrest warrant. Bench warrants are issued when someone fails to do something related to court proceedings such as respond to a subpoena, pay a court fine, or failure to appear before the court for any other reason.

Arrest Warrants Versus Bench Warrants

Like we mentioned before, the key difference between arrest and bench warrants is the reasons for their issuance.  Arrest warrants are issued after an investigation whereas bench warrants are issued because of the failure of a person to do something the court has mandated.  They both authorize the police or other law enforcement entities to arrest and detain a person.

If you discover that an arrest warrant or bench warrant has been issued in your name or you have been arrested already, it’s best to retain a top California criminal lawyer to help guide you through the legal system.  A good criminal defense attorney will be able to tell you what you need to do in your specific situation including what to say, who to call, and what to expect based on your circumstances.

It is very important that you contact a criminal defense attorney and not attempt to handle the process on your own.  If you make mistakes or are unsure of how to proceed, you may end up spending more time in jail than you need to, ruin your chances at fixing the situation or mitigating damages to your life, or worse; saying or doing something you wished you hadn’t.

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