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What is a Bench Warrant?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A bench warrant is a type of arrest warrant which is issued by a judge or court, most typically when someone fails to comply with a court order or requirement. When a bench warrant is issued, law enforcement have the authority to pick up the subject of the warrant and bring him or her to court to address the charges of a bench warrant; the subject is literally brought before the judge's bench to respond to the warrant. Bench warrants are often used as tools for fighting contempt of court, a willful disregard of a court order. Some judges are more prone to issuing bench warrants than others; as a general rule, you should avoid contempt of court anyway, as the penalties can be severe.

One example of contempt of court is a failure to appear in response to a jury summons. A judge can issue a bench warrant which obligates someone to come to court and answer contempt charges, although many judges do not want to deal with the paperwork of issuing bench warrants for people who fail to appear for jury duty. More commonly, a bench warrant will be issued to someone who did not show up for a scheduled court date, or for someone who decides to disobey a subpoena to testify in a case.

In order to file a bench warrant, a judge must generally demonstrate a personal knowledge of the contempt which instigated the warrant. Otherwise, a judge must wait for someone to file an affidavit requesting a bench warrant. For example, if person N fails to pay child support to person Y, person Y's lawyer can file an affidavit for a bench warrant to request the presence of person N in court. Person N must explain why he or she failed to pay child support at this court appearance.

A bench warrant is slightly different from a more general arrest warrant. A warrant for arrest is issued when a law enforcement agency has reason to believe that someone has been involved in a crime. For example, an arrest warrant will be issued by a court for someone who is accused of murder so that he or she can be indicted and tried. Typically, someone can pay bail to get out of jail after an indictment hearing has been held, while the subject of a bench warrant may not be allowed to pay bail if the court determines that the person needs to be held in jail, since she or he is deemed a flight risk.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a MyLawQuestions researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon334710 — On May 14, 2013

If you are already overseas and go to another country other than the US, will the bench warrant appear and will you get deported?

By anon327239 — On Mar 26, 2013

I have a probation violation warrant that was issued about eight years ago for testing dirty and recently they started asking for me again. Would they go to Mexico to look for me?

By anon325506 — On Mar 16, 2013

My husband and I were in court last November for our child missing too many days of school. We were told to pay costs adding up to $540 by December 15. I called clerk and informed them of our hardship and was told that I had to send at least $5 to show attempt. I sent $20 for each of us before the 15th and was not able to pay the rest until February.

We ended up seeing online that we were wanted for show cause. I sent the money order along with the explanation of the lateness. Is there a reason for us to turn ourselves in? Is it a possible arrest, even though I satisfied the payment? Does it call for extradition?

By anon318808 — On Feb 09, 2013

I have been unable to comply with court orders in a DUI case. I am very late in making any payments and have no required classes/programs started/finished since court five months ago. Am I at risk of being taken into custody if I go to the courthouse?

By anon304556 — On Nov 20, 2012

@No. 53: Yes you will get picked up by U.S. Marshals for child support, sad to say. It happened to me last year in Texas. The child support was in Indiana. Then I found out that they didn't even have jurisdiction, because I was not properly served in the civil case and they converted it to criminal contempt instead of civil contempt.

I have been waiting on SSDI. I'm 57 years old with severe hypertension artery problems, and now possible lung problems. I'm 57 and always paid. The arrears are way outrageous. They were charging me for child support when one of my sons was in prison and the oldest son was living with me for 18 years and the sorry corrupt court knew it.

I notified everyone involved by certified mail and asked for a child support modification. I was ignored and got no response. I could not afford an attorney. I had to figure this crap out for myself. It's a rigged scamming system for non-custodial parents. It's a conflict of interest, because everyone in the justice system gets kickbacks from the Feds to lock you up. It's so unconstitutional it's a travesty. Good luck. I have a warrant again. They don't care whether you're able to work or not.

By Brit1234 — On Sep 14, 2012

My boyfriend just got arrested last Thursday and didn't pay all of his DUI payment, and missed court so he had a bench warrant. They say his bond is $975 and I won't be able to pay it because it will look bad on me if he doesn't keep paying on his ticket. He has court on this coming up Thursday. How long will they make him sit in jail? Is there any possible way he will get out?

By anon269775 — On May 19, 2012

I was arrested for DUI in Oregon, went to court and the judge ordered me to complete a diversion program, which I started and then moved to another state and never finished. I just found out I have a warrant for my arrest.

I live in Nebraska now. Is there a way to turn myself in here in Nebraska or take care of it without having to go to Oregon or will I get extradited if I do that? I believe it is a misdemeanor and not a felony charge.

By anon249624 — On Feb 21, 2012

Do you know if US Marshals can pick you up for owed child support if you are out of state?

By anon243613 — On Jan 28, 2012

I have a bench warrant in Texas, but I live in Montana. Montana is a non extradition state. So if I turn myself in here, Texas has three days to come claim me, or I get released. My question is, does my charge get dropped as well?

By anon237625 — On Dec 30, 2011

I loaned $1,500 to an ex-boyfriend and he thinks he isn't going to pay me back. I've asked him a million times very nicely, but still isn't budging so I figure I'll just take him to small claims court. Thing is, I'm in NY and he's in CO so is there a way that I can have it issued out there or inform them where he lives, etc. so that this actually goes through?

Also, he may or may not already have a outstanding warrant from a previous charge so will this in any way interfere with that?

By anon236846 — On Dec 26, 2011

If a person who may have a bench warrant out on them for not showing up for court starts going to school, and even makes payments, will he/she get caught?

By anon235004 — On Dec 15, 2011

This is for all you people that live in one state but have warrants in another, here's my experience.

I live in Virginia and Texas issued a warrant for my arrest. My local police came and arrested me to extradite me to Texas and yes, you can fight it and make the issuing state get a governor's warrant, but all the issuing state has to do is prove that you are the person they are after and game over.

If another state comes after you, you're going. It's best just to go and get your time started because the time you spend in your local jail waiting for them to get permission to take you does not count. Your time doesn't start until the issuing agency has you locked up in their jail. Hope this helps.

By anon223111 — On Oct 18, 2011

I had court one day and I thought it was the next day so I'm pretty sure they issued a bench warrant. It was for an ability to pay. My question is, if I come in and pay, will they still keep the bench warrant active?

By anon206613 — On Aug 17, 2011

You can and will be extradited for bench warrants. Been there done that. What I want to know is if someone can be extradited from Mexico for child support?

By anon185083 — On Jun 10, 2011

I have an arrest warrant issued Nov-2006 for a felony for not reporting to probation kiosk, not doing community service and failing to provide a DNA sample. I live in California. I know I will have to surrender to the Police with an attorney, but my question is if I do a voluntary arrest will it be possible that they can lower my felony to a misdemeanor? The warrant will be five years old this November. Are there other things that would be the best to do?

By anon184253 — On Jun 07, 2011

The state of illinois issued me a bench warrant for something i didn't do. will washington arrest me for it? I think that the state of illinois is full of small town hicks who are willing to do anything to get money or to destroy someone's pride and integrity for what ever reason that they want.

By anon171911 — On May 02, 2011

i got a bench warrant issued and they came to my house and arrested me because I missed a court date that was never issued. what can i do?

By anon157857 — On Mar 04, 2011

i had a voicemail from some out-of-state attorney a few weeks back. He left me a hateful message, and said i had a bench warrant, and would be arrested soon.

I have never missed a court appearance, nor have i failed to pay a ticket/fine when issued one in the past. can they issue this warrant if you never got a summons to appear?

By anon149812 — On Feb 05, 2011

Bench warrants are abuse of human rights. Notice to appear in court is send by unregistered junk mail and often to the old address. Then the person has to deal with this crap.

I was told, that the person will get arrested even if the court was wrong and even if you just show up there voluntarily.

By anon122298 — On Oct 27, 2010

Okay, so I got pulled over for driving drunk. Somehow I still managed to get away from the cop last night but he kept my license. Uh, would that get me a bench warrant?

By anon116610 — On Oct 07, 2010

what happens if you have a bench warrant and you move to another state? can they come and get you and take you to jail?

By anon115886 — On Oct 04, 2010

I've just learned that i have a warrant, from 10 years ago. i no longer live in connecticut. How do i go about getting this quashed?

By anon111310 — On Sep 15, 2010

my brother has been arrested on a bench warrant in Washington D.C. we have been unable to have any contact with him since his arrest over 24 hours ago. he had his hearing and has been taken back to prison.

I read that you do not normally get bail for such a warrant. Is this correct? Is it normal that they are not allowed any contact with loved ones? If so, for how long? He is an illegal alien married to an american citizen. is there anything my embassy can do? sorry for so many queries. i am actually in Australia. he does have a brother and wife in DC and I have no idea how the bench warrant works. should we get him a lawyer or would he have had legal representation in the hearing today? can you recommend someone? thank you so much in advance.

i am beside myself with worry. regards.

By anon105911 — On Aug 23, 2010

i have a bench warrant in one state, but i live in another state. is there any way i can get the bench warrant gone without going back to the state i got the bench warrant from?

By anon103064 — On Aug 10, 2010

I was just informed that my 23 year old son is in custody for a bench warrant. I don't know why he is being held, although I do know that he was given a DUI a few weeks back. How can I assist him to get free? He telephoned me and I missed his call. I am devastated. --a mom

By anon87646 — On May 31, 2010

my boyfriend has a bench warrant, from rampo, a town down where i live. he's been in jail since sunday. we couldn't even pay bail today since it was a holiday. tomorrow when bail is paid would he get out of the county jail while still having a bench warrant in other town? he does have school during the week.

By anon85074 — On May 18, 2010

what happens if you miss your court date and a bench warrant is issued?

By anon83540 — On May 11, 2010

What rights do you have when a bench warrant is put on you? Can they pick you up any day including Sunday?

By anon76271 — On Apr 09, 2010

If a person is issued a bench warrant in one state, can he be picked up in another state?

By anon74574 — On Apr 02, 2010

To all of you asking about out of state agencies seeing you have a warrant, the answer depends on the level of the offense, but majority of the time yes they can.

Same thing with the question about other countries, the answer depends on the level of the offense. Majority of the time if you leave the country with a passport your warrant information can be attached to your passport and when scanned by customs your passport can be flagged.

By anon69570 — On Mar 09, 2010

I live in Las Vegas Nevada and I got a bench warrant for missing court for a petty larceny case. What is the best way to handle this situation?

By anon69435 — On Mar 08, 2010

what if i have a bench warrant in one state? would it show up when i try to get a job?

By anon67052 — On Feb 22, 2010

i missed court for a drug charge i have because i was sick. can they give me a bench warrant? By the way, I'm in NV.

By gonzalez489 — On Feb 22, 2010

i had to fly out of the country because my father died and a bench warrant was issued for a traffic citation.

my question is that can i get arrested when i enter the united states at the airport. thanks.

By anon64980 — On Feb 10, 2010

if a person is issued a bench warrant in one state

can the legal officers enter the other country to make an arrest?

By anon59922 — On Jan 11, 2010

if a person is issued a bench warrant in one state, can he be picked up in another state?

By anon57436 — On Dec 23, 2009

If I have a child support warrant in NJ and I am arrested and booked in NY will the NJ warrant show up?

By anon56406 — On Dec 14, 2009

If there is a bench warrant in California can the legal officials enter Mexico to make an arrest?

By anon52985 — On Nov 18, 2009

When must a bench warrant be issued? How soon after the alleged offense? And what must be done by the authorities to enforce it?

By anon52936 — On Nov 17, 2009

what happens if you live in one state and you are subpoenaed for court in another state for child support and you don't go to court? Can you be arrested in the state you live in now and extradited to the state that issued the warrant?

By anon50135 — On Oct 26, 2009

I got a fix it ticket in 2003 and had to pay 158.00. My check bounced and now I have a bench warrant on me and $475 is my ticket. I want to fix this and have been trying to pay but I have to go to the court rm. Will they arrest me on the spot? and will I have to pay more money to get off the bench warrant?

By anon48453 — On Oct 12, 2009

How would I file contempt and perjury charges in a family custody case that had kept me from my child for years?

By dawg721 — On Oct 09, 2009

what if i have a bench warrant in a state that i don't live in? will they pick me up from another state?

By anon43648 — On Aug 31, 2009

if i got a bench warrant for my arrest for missing a court date for dui in july, wow! how long will i be in jail in Illinois.

By anon41378 — On Aug 14, 2009

If there was a bench warrant issued for a hot check that was never paid for, what usually is the proceeding in this case? Would they be held in jail to sit it out, is it usually city or county, or if they pay it is there a way to keep from going to jail if the bench warrant has already been issued?

By anon41184 — On Aug 13, 2009

What if a participant of a pension fund is in contempt of court in another state and has a bench warrant in the state the check is issued in and will not comply because a statute allows this person to collect anyway?

By jeff57 — On Jul 25, 2009

hey. i got a open liquor ticket in NY. i'm from canada. i sent the 25 dollars US two months later instead of within the 10 days.

my friend also paid, but he received a letter returning his money and saying there's a warrant out for him! so im expecting the same. will i get turned away at the border? i have a plane ticket to mexico next month from NY. i'm concerned!

By anon35718 — On Jul 07, 2009

if a person is issued a bench warrant in one state, can he be picked up in another state?

By anon22923 — On Dec 12, 2008

If there is a bench warrant in California can the legal officials enter Mexico to make an arrest?

By aac1215 — On Oct 17, 2008

what if I missed my scheduled probation appointments but still sent in child support payments. If I go to jail, will they detain me for all the months I've missed for probation?

By anon18169 — On Sep 16, 2008

What if someone has been served to appear in front of a judge show cause of failure to pay child support and did not show up for the court date. What usually happens in this case?

By anon12115 — On Apr 30, 2008

What if I apply for many jobs and I needed to pay off my debt and didn't get accepted by any job?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
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