How to Clear a Bench Warrant Without Going to Jail
It’s a scenario that could happen to anyone: You’re arrested, make bail, and you're released pending your next court date, but you don’t receive the notice. Or you’ve been ordered to pay a fine, but you don’t have the money – and don’t know how to get help, so you simply don’t pay it. Beware: These cases may be common, but they’ll result in the court issuing a bench warrant against you.
What Is a Bench Warrant?
A bench warrant is a legal document that allows the police to arrest or detain you if you fail to obey a court order. It’s similar to an arrest warrant, but a bench warrant is issued directly by a judge, while an arrest warrant is filed by law enforcement and approved by a judge. Also, an arrest warrant is for criminal activity, while a bench warrant is specifically for violating the rules of the court. If you’re cited for any of the following, you could find yourself wondering how to clear a bench warrant without going to jail:
Failure to Appear
Failing to appear for any of your scheduled court dates is one of the most common reasons for bench warrants. The typical arrest and trial process has plenty of court dates: arraignments, multiple hearings, trial, sentencing, and other dates, like completing court-ordered programs. You’ll be given written notice of all your court dates, and if you fail to appear for any of them, you could have a bench warrant issued against you. They can also be issued if you’re summoned for jury duty or subpoenaed to appear as a witness, and fail to show up.
Failure to Pay
Court orders to pay fines or restitution, which is repayment to a victim of a crime, are also common. It’s important to stay on top of these orders so you can pay them on time or make alternate arrangements: If you prove that you can’t pay, the court may be able to arrange a payment plan or substitute community service instead. If you simply don’t pay, it won’t go away – it will result in a bench warrant.
Probation means you’ve been sentenced to a period of “supervised release” (relating to either a deferred sentence or suspended sentence) so that you can avoid going to prison. You’ll have to report to a probation officer, among other requirements, and can also be given special conditions, like mandatory drug testing or completing a DUI program. If you don’t complete these requirements, you’ll be in violation of your probation and can have a bench warrant issued against you. Probation violations are serious and can make it harder to clear a bench warrant without going to jail.
How to Clear a Bench Warrant Without Going to Jail
The process of dealing with your bench warrant is called “clearing,” “lifting,” or “recalling.” To clear your bench warrant, you’ll typically need to appear in court – but when you do, you’re at the mercy of the judge to decide whether you’ll go to jail. Here’s what to do.
Get an Attorney
As soon as you learn you have a bench warrant against you, retain an attorney experienced with criminal defense and warrants. They can advise you on the process, and their expertise and ability to argue for you in court gives you the best chance to avoid jail time.
Surrender to the Warrant
Once you have a lawyer, you arrange to be booked into jail through the surrender process in the jurisdiction where you were arrested. Typically, you can show up during a certain time frame to get booked, pay a bond, and be released, pending a court date. For example, Oklahoma County has an “In and Out Surrender Program” that lets offenders surrender and get arraigned in the same day without being arrested.
Argue Your Case
Once you’ve surrendered, you’ll be given a new court date to argue your case. If your bench warrant is from a felony case or is for a probation violation, you’ll need to appear in court, although you can have an attorney with you. If your bench warrant is because you failed to appear or didn’t pay a fine or restitution in a misdemeanor case, you can have an attorney appear in court for you. Your attorney can argue that your bench warrant should be cleared because:
- You never received the initial notice to appear
- You didn’t know a case had been filed
- You complied or believed you complied with the court order
- You’re a subject of mistaken identity
- You’re not a flight risk or likely to commit another crime
What Happens If a Bench Warrant Isn’t Cleared?
Unfortunately, there’s no sure-fire way to clear a bench warrant without going to jail. Once you’ve argued your case, the judge can either release you on a warning or order you to go to jail. They’ll consider things like your alleged crime, criminal history, and whether you’re a flight risk. Also keep in mind that if you’re arrested on a bench warrant rather than voluntarily surrendering, your chances of avoiding jail are slim.
Penalties for Willfully Failing to Appear
If your bench warrant is for failing to appear, the judge could also find that you willfully didn’t comply with the court order. In that case, 59 O.S. § 1335 states that:
“[Anyone who] (1) incurs a forfeiture of the bail and willfully fails to surrender himself within thirty (30) days following the date of such forfeiture, or (2) willfully fails to comply with the terms of his personal recognizance, shall be guilty of a felony and shall be fined not more than Five Thousand Dollars ($5,000.00) or imprisoned not more than two (2) years, or both.”
How Much Does It Cost to Lift a Bench Warrant?
The cost to clear a bench warrant depends on the original crime you were charged with. When you surrender, you’ll be arraigned and a bond will be set based on your crime. You’ll need to pay it to get out of jail. If you failed to pay a fine or restitution, you might also be ordered to pay it or arrange a payment plan.
It’s always smart to retain an attorney to deal with outstanding warrants. When you consider that a good lawyer will know how you can clear a bench warrant without going to jail – and interrupting your life and employment – it’s well worth the cost.
The Bottom Line
Bench warrants are serious. You can be arrested and taken to jail, even if you never knew about your court date. If you learn there’s a bench warrant issued against you, it’s important to take care of it immediately – and the first step is to retain an experienced attorney. Contact the Khalaf Law Firm for expert advice on how to clear a bench warrant without going to jail and the representation in court you need.