It can be unnerving to be approached by law enforcement—even more so to be told that you have been named in a "body attachment" warrant and that they are placing you under arrest to take you to court.
The term "body attachment" can sound quite intimidating, but it's one of the most common types of warrants issued in California. The term is often interchanged with "bench warrant." What is a body attachment, and how should you respond if you are named in one?
Suppose you signed a written promise to appear in court but failed to appear as required. In that case, the judge could issue a “body attachment,” a warrant authorizing law enforcement to arrest you and bring you to court. A judge may issue a warrant in a criminal or civil case.
Notably, a body attachment warrant is different than an arrest warrant. A judge issues an arrest warrant after showing probable cause that you were engaged in criminal activity outside the presence of law enforcement.
Judges typically issue a writ of bodily attachment in a criminal case if you fail to comply with a court order or attend a court hearing. For example, a judge might issue a body attachment if you fail to show up for a court appearance after you were arrested and released on your own recognizance.
A judge can issue body attachment orders in misdemeanor or felony cases. After the warrant has been issued against you, the police can arrest you and bring you to court. After you are brought to court, the judge can either release you with a warning or place you in custody.
Notably, a writ of body attachment, by itself, does not mean that you will face criminal charges. However, willfully failing to failure to appear in court for a court date is a crime.
What Is a Body Attachment?
A body attachment is a specific type of warrant issued by a judge authorizing a law enforcement officer to arrest an individual and bring them to court. It may also be called a "body warrant" or "body attachment order."
It can be issued in criminal and civil cases—for example, when someone has been held in contempt of court for failing to appear for a court date.
After a court issues a body attachment in a civil matter, the sheriff's office can arrest you and bring you to court. A judge will typically keep you in custody until you comply with a subpoena or address your issues, such as non-payment of debts.
Sometimes, however, you will not be arrested. Instead, the court will send you a notice requiring you to appear in court to deal with the pending issue.
Who Issues a Body Attachment?
A body attachment can only be issued by a judge. Unlike an arrest warrant, requested by law enforcement and signed by a judge, a body attachment is a warrant issued explicitly by the bench, hence its other common name, a "bench warrant." The judge considers several legal criteria when issuing this type of warrant.
What Triggers a Body Attachment Warrant?
A body attachment is typically issued when an individual fails to comply with a court order, including but not limited to appearing for scheduled hearings—whether in criminal or civil cases. Some common reasons for a body attachment include:
- Failure to Appear in Court: If you fail to appear for a scheduled court hearing, a judge may issue a body attachment to bring you in. This includes specific court-ordered appearances and failing to appear after receiving a traffic citation, for example.
- Non-Compliance with Court Orders: A judge might issue a body attachment if you do not comply with other court orders, such as failing to pay child support or alimony.
- Contempt of Court: If an individual disrespects the court or its orders, they could be held in contempt, leading to a body attachment.
- Failure to Pay Fines: If you do not pay fines ordered by the court, a judge may issue a body attachment to have you explain yourself, at which time you might face further penalties.
- Non-Appearance as a Witness: If you receive a subpoena to appear in court as a witness and neglect to do so, a judge can issue a body attachment to ensure your attendance.
- Failure to Complete Court-Mandated Programs: If you don't complete court-ordered programs within the allotted time frame, such as anger management or substance abuse treatment as a condition of your probation, a judge might issue a body attachment.
What Is the Difference Between a Body Attachment and a Bench Warrant?
There is essentially no difference between a body attachment and a bench warrant in California. Some states differentiate between the two based on the type of court order that led to their issuance.
For example, a body attachment might be issued for an individual who failed to appear in family court or a civil suit. At the same time, a bench warrant would be used if someone violated their probation or failed to appear for a court date in a criminal case.
What Should You Do If You Are Named in a Body Attachment?
If you become aware that a body attachment warrant has been issued against you, the best way to respond is with a proactive approach. A body attachment does not mean you've been charged with a crime—on its face, it only means the judge wants to compel you to appear.
However, there may be a record of your arrest, and depending on the circumstances, criminal charges may be pending, especially if you're accused of contempt of court or some other crime. The best way to reduce these risks is to contact the court directly, make arrangements to appear, and request that the judge recall the body attachment before an arrest.
A skilled California criminal defense attorney will know the best way to go about this, and in some cases, the attorney may even be able to appear in court on your behalf to get the warrant recalled. Contact us for more information. Eisner Gorin LLP is in Los Angeles, CA.