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California Bench Warrants and How to Get Them Removed

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Sep 13, 2023

A bench warrant is a type of arrest warrant issued by a judge, or "the bench," hence the name. Unlike other types of warrants, a bench warrant isn't issued due to suspected criminal activity but is primarily issued when an individual fails to adhere to court rules, orders, or other instructions.

In other words, a California bench warrant is used to arrest and detain someone who has either failed to appear in court or disobeyed a court order. You can typically clear or “quash” a bench warrant by appearing in court or possibly having a lawyer appear on your behalf.

How to Clear a Bench Warrant in California?
You can usually “quash” a bench warrant by appearing in court or a lawyer appearing for you.

To successfully quash a bench warrant means the court will remove it from California's judicial system. In most cases, you must appear in court to recall a warrant.

As noted, it might be possible to have your defense lawyer appear in court on your behalf in cases where you failed to appear for a court appearance or failed to make a payment related to a misdemeanor offense.

However, if your failure to obey a court order is related to a felony case, you must make a personal court appearance, with or without a lawyer, to clear the warrant.

Suppose you do not clear a bench warrant. In that case, law enforcement can arrest you and bring you to court. After appearing in court, the judge can either release you with a warning or place you in custody.

Having a bench warrant issued against you can complicate your life in many ways, from the threat of imminent arrest to having negative notations show up on criminal background checks.

Fortunately, in many instances, a skilled California criminal defense attorney can take steps to have a bench warrant removed, also known as "clearing," "recalling," or "quashing" the bench order. Let's review further below.

What Were the Circumstances Leading to a Bench Warrant?

Unlike search warrants or arrest warrants, issued at the request of law enforcement or prosecutors when probable cause exists, a bench warrant is initiated and issued directly by the judge. Bench warrants are primarily issued for one of two reasons:

  • Failure to Appear (FTA): If you must be present in court for a hearing or trial or have promised to do so after receiving a citation and don't show up, the judge may issue a bench warrant against you. For instance, if you were summoned to court for a traffic violation hearing and didn't attend, or if you were released on your own recognizance for criminal charges and didn't show up for a required hearing, the judge may issue a bench warrant to force you to appear.
  • Noncompliance with a Court Order: This can include failing to pay fines, not completing court-ordered community service, or violating probation terms. For example, a bench warrant might be issued if a judge ordered you to attend anger management classes following a disorderly conduct charge and failed to complete them.

Does a Bench Warrant Mean You Were Charged with a Crime?

No, a bench warrant does not necessarily mean you've been charged with a crime, although it may result in an arrest.

The primary purpose of a bench warrant is to compel you, through forcible arrest, to appear before the judge to answer why you failed to appear in court or disobeyed a court order.

While these issues may result in criminal charges, typically contempt of court or failure to appear, issuing a bench warrant is a tool the court uses to enforce its orders and ensure compliance.

What are the Possible Repercussions of a Bench Warrant?

A bench warrant issued against you can be pretty disruptive to your life in several ways unless the warrant is removed. The repercussions may include:

  • Imminent arrest. Once a bench warrant is issued, law enforcement can locate and arrest you anytime. This could mean being arrested at home, work, or a routine traffic stop.
  • Suspension of your driver's license. California law authorizes the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to suspend your driver's license if a bench warrant is issued, and the license will not be reinstated until you have appeared before the court. 
  • Increase or denial of bail. If you were released pending a trial, the bench warrant may result in the court increasing your bail—or worse, denying bail completely. 
  • Negative criminal background checks. A bench warrant may appear during criminal background checks conducted by employers, lenders, landlords, etc., impacting your ability to get a job, a loan, or a place to live.

Can a Defense Attorney Have a Bench Warrant Removed?

If a bench warrant is issued against you, you may get the warrant removed (cleared) before it is executed. Removing a warrant means removing it from the California judicial system, eliminating the threat of arrest, and keeping it from appearing on background checks.

To have the warrant removed, you or your attorney must appear before the judge of your own accord to request it.

Can a Defense Attorney Have a Bench Warrant Removed?
Contact our criminal lawyers for a case review.

Removing a warrant requires you to give a valid reason for the initial failure to appear or comply with the court order. Valid reasons may include not receiving the initial court notice or experiencing an unavoidable emergency.

As noted above, in some instances, your attorney might be able to appear on your behalf to have the bench warrant cleared, such as when you failed to make a court appearance or pay a fine related to a misdemeanor offense.

However, for felonies or serious offenses, you will need to appear personally. If the bench warrant was issued due to unpaid fines or non-completion of court-ordered programs, fulfilling these obligations can aid in quashing the warrant.

Defense attorneys are invaluable in helping people clear and remove California criminal warrants. They can research to find out if you could be subjected to having a warrant, if there is an active outstanding warrant, and identify the type of warrant.

Our defense lawyers can develop the best legal strategy for your warrant. Perhaps it's possible to make a challenge or work out a deal to avoid possible jail or state prison time. We know what steps are necessary to quash the warrant. Contact our law firm to review the case details and to discuss legal options. Eisner Gorin has offices in Los Angeles, CA.

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About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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