How to Handle an Outstanding Bench Warrant, Arrest Warrant, or a Missed Court Date

If you have a warrant out for your arrest or missed your criminal court date, here's what you should do.

By , Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated March 28, 2023

If you discover that a bench warrant or arrest warrant has been issued against you or you missed a court date, the most important thing to do is take action immediately. If you don't, you'll have to worry constantly about the possibility of being arrested and taken to jail. Plus, matters can get worse in your criminal case. Below we'll review steps to avoid a bench or arrest warrant in the first place and what to do if one is issued.

What Is a Bench Warrant? What Is an Arrest Warrant?

Courts issue bench and arrest warrants for various reasons.

Bench Warrants

Courts most commonly issue bench warrants for failing to appear in court (this applies to defendants and subpoenaed witnesses), violating probation, or failing to comply with a court order to pay a fine, complete community service, pay child support, or do some other act. The bench warrant directs law enforcement to take a person into custody and bring the person before the court to address the reason the warrant was issued. If you're picked up on a bench warrant, you could be held in jail until the court has a hearing on your case, or you could be required to post a high bond and pay court fees.

Arrest Warrants

If the police have enough evidence that you committed a crime, an officer can ask a judge to issue a warrant for your arrest. The warrant might call for your immediate arrest. Other times, a pending arrest can hang over your head for a while. Police may plan a warrant sweep, where they take one day to find and arrest dozens of people with outstanding warrants. Once in custody, you can be held without bail until an arraignment, release hearing, or similar proceeding.

How to Avoid a Bench Warrant: Follow Court Orders and Show Up to Court

The easiest way to avoid a bench warrant is to comply with the court's orders by showing up to court as scheduled (and on time) and following any conditions of release or probation.

What to Do If You Can't Make Court Appearance?

If you can't make the scheduled hearing or even if you're running late, contact your lawyer immediately to get their advice. If you don't have an attorney, call the court clerk to let them know or to see if you can reschedule. The court doesn't have to reschedule and, if you show up late or don't appear, the judge can still issue a bench warrant. But, a judge might give you a second chance if your efforts were legitimate (and you haven't no-showed before).

What to Do If You Have Probation or Supervision Questions?

For probationers, generally, your first point of contact will be your probation officer if you can't make a scheduled visit or have other questions regarding your conditions. If you don't have a probation officer, you'll likely need to direct any questions to the court clerk or talk to your attorney.

What Is an Outstanding Warrant?

If you failed to show up at court, violated a court order, or broke the law, the court has likely issued a bench or arrest warrant against you. Until it's resolved—by you going before a judge, turning yourself in, or getting arrested—you'll have an outstanding warrant.

Having an outstanding warrant means police can arrest you at most any time—whether that's during a routine traffic stop, at your home or work, or when you appear in court on another matter—and then bring you to jail. By taking action immediately, you might be able to avoid arrest or jail time or, at least, minimize the consequences.

How to Handle or Take Care of an Outstanding Warrant

If you missed a court date or know that you have an outstanding warrant, contact your lawyer for advice on how to best handle the situation. Your attorney may be able to contact the court or police and arrange for you to appear before a judge or turn yourself in rather than having cops show up at your door. If you missed your court date because of an emergency (such as a car accident or medical emergency), you will need to provide the court with solid proof of the time, date, and extent of the emergency.

Many courts and law enforcement agencies also post information online regarding outstanding warrants, including how to find out whether you have an outstanding warrant and what to do if that's the case. Some courts and agencies have warrant hotlines to assist with rescheduling court dates or turning yourself in. A city or county might even schedule a city-wide or county-wide warrant day or clinic to allow individuals to resolve warrant issues.

Additional Consequences of an Outstanding Warrant

Depending on the circumstances, you might face additional consequences relating to the outstanding warrant. For instance, failure to appear in court can be a crime in and of itself. If you're out on bail, you could face charges for bail jumping, have your bail revoked (meaning you'll be in jail until trial), have bail forfeited, or any or all of these. If you've failed to comply with court orders, like paying child support, you could end up with contempt charges. For those on probation, the consequences can be even worse. The judge might revoke your probation and require you to serve your sentence.

Talk to a Lawyer

Having an outstanding warrant can be stressful. Talk to a criminal defense attorney in your area to get advice on what to do. An attorney can help walk you through your options and represent you in any related court hearings.

Selected State Information on Handling Bench Warrants

New Mexico
New York

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