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What to do if you have a bench warrant in the State of Pennsylvania

Posted on November 24th, 2014

A bench warrant means that there is a warrant for your arrest. There are three reasons why an individual would have a warrant out for their arrest. First, there are charges currently pending against an individual that have been filed and a warrant has been signed by a judge to arrest the person. Second, if someone has missed a court date and the court has issued a bench warrant for his or her arrest. Third, if a person is otherwise in Contempt of Court such as violating their probation or not properly responding to a subpoena. The following points outline the differences between these types of warrants, and actions you can take if you have a warrant. It is important to know that the process for having a warrant lifted is different in each county.

1. Bench warrant for new charges

Often, individuals who are being charged with a crime but were not arrested at that time are charged through a warrant. This means that a criminal complaint was filed, signed by a judge, and then a warrant for arrest was issued for that individual. One would assume that an individual wanted for a crime would be aware of this fact, but it is not always the case. Sometimes allegations are made against an individual without that person’s knowledge. For example, if an ex-employer believes somebody stole from them, they contact the police and the police may do their entire investigation without ever contacting the suspect. This could be because the police do not choose to contact a suspect or they cannot locate the suspect. Another example is in a fight or a sexual assault case. The allegations may be made against the individual and if those allegations are false, the individual may never know.

If you know that there is a warrant for your arrest, you have two choices. The first is you can turn yourself in without an attorney. This would mean contacting the police department or detective who is investigating the case and arranging to turn yourself in.

The second choice is to contact an attorney and have them negotiate the terms of your surrender. Under the first scenario, there are many downsides. The only upside is that you initially saved money by not paying a lawyer. The downsides are many. First, the police will most definitely attempt to take a statement from you. Most individuals feel that giving a statement is a good thing, but it is not. Often these statements will be used only if they support the government’s case against you. Any evidence or statement that points to your innocence will often be ignored. There are few if any advantages to giving a statement without an attorney.

Another disadvantage to turning yourself in without an attorney is that you are not able to negotiate the terms of your surrender. Specifically, you do not negotiate the terms of your bail. With an attorney, bail can be set at a lower rate or sometimes “Sign On Bond (SOB)” or “Release On Own Recognizance (ROR).” If you do not know about these terms and conditions, you are unable to negotiate for them. The result will be either having to post high bail or sit in jail until your trial. And often a trial can take months if not years.

We recommend that you contact an attorney before turning yourself in for these and many other reasons. Once you do turn yourself in to the police, you will be formally charged with the crime and bail will be set. You will then be given a date for your preliminary hearing. At this point, you will need an attorney to represent you. If you cannot afford an attorney, an attorney will be appointed for you by the courts.

2. Bench warrant for failing to appear in court

At any stage of the proceedings whether it be a preliminary hearing, a pretrial conference, a guilty plea, or sentencing, if you fail to appear for court, a warrant will be issued for your arrest. If a warrant is issued for your arrest, then the bench warrant division of your county’s sheriff department will be looking for you. They may come to your house in the middle of the night, break down your door, and pull you out of bed. You could be stopped for a traffic violation and your name will come up on the police computer. At this point, you will be arrested and taken into custody. On the next business day, you will appear in front of a judge. That judge then will decide if you are to be released on your own recognizance, if bail has to be posted, or if you are to be held without bail.

3. Judge only bench warrant

The “Judge Only Bench Warrant” is a bench warrant that is listed by a specific judge and occurs when a judge is particularly annoyed with a person. They will issue what is called a judge only bench warrant. If you are picked up on this type of warrant, you will not go in front of the next available judge to have your bail decided. You will wait until that judge has the time to see you and then you will go in front of that specific judge. As you can imagine, if you are held to go in front of the judge who you have aggravated, the judge will neither be in a hurry to hear your case nor will that judge usually be lenient. If you have a judge only bench warrant it is in your interest to negotiate ahead of time the terms and conditions of your surrender and release. Although you can attempt to do this on your own, it is recommended that you have an attorney who is familiar with the criminal justice system in your county and familiar with the judge who issued the warrant. Sometimes a good attorney can arrange for your court date without you being held in custody and arrange the terms of your re-release.

4. Warrant for your arrest for contempt of court or other miscellaneous reasons

If you have been subpoenaed as a witness by either the government or the defense and you fail to appear, a warrant could be issued for your arrest. As with any other warrant, the sheriff’s will be looking for you. Planning is the key to making sure that you do not spend an unnecessary amount of time in prison. This is a difficult system to negotiate by yourself and it is recommended that you have an attorney to help you. It is important to remember that the initial reason for your warrant was noncompliance and therefore compliance is what is important. If your warrant was for a violation of your probation, then your probation officer, the district attorney, and the judge in your case will decide if you have violated your probation and, if so, what the punishment will be. It is recommended that an attorney do these delicate negotiations ahead of time. That attorney will then be able to help you turn yourself in. Probation officers who believe that their probationers are in violation of probation will issue a bench warrant sometimes known as a detainer. The problem with a detainer is that you will be held in prison until that detainer is lifted. The bench warrant will not be lifted until you go in front of a judge, where the judge decides whether you violated your probation and then decides what your sentence will be. This is a lengthy process.

Having a warrant for your arrest is a scary and nerve-racking event. The sooner that you have someone on your side helping you the more likely your pending warrant will be resolved in a favorable manner. Please call if you have questions or wish to discuss your case. Consultations are free, confidential, and available both by phone and in person. Please contact our office for more information at 215-884-9300.


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