What is a bench warrant? How did one get issued in your case? What can you do about it?
Possible Reasons a Warrant was Issued
The judge may issue an arrest warrant from the bench. There are several possible reasons this may happen. When the grand jury hands down an indictment and the clerk randomnly assigns a criminal court judge to the case, the judge may consider the charges to be so serious that, instead of a summons to come to court for arraignment, the judge issues a bench warrant and sets a high bond. Violent crimes and DUI are the types of charges that suggest to the court that the defendant may be a danger to society or a flight risk.
Failure to Appear
A second way that bench warrants are issued are when the court issued a summons to appear in court for arraignment and you fail to appear at the scheduled hearing. This could be because you did not receive mail at the address listed in the court file, or simply forgot the time and date of the hearing. In any event, the court considers you to be a flight risk and issues an arrest warrant. Of course failure to appear at later hearings will result in the same thing.
Bench warrants are also issued for probation violations. The list of possible ways to violate probation seem endless, but here are some of the common examples: failure to pay the fine and court costs as agreed; a urine specimen being "dirty" or testing positive for drugs or alcohol; failure to submit to a urine test when ordered to do so; failure to complete community service; failure to enroll in treatment or programs as required by the court and its screening officer.
Not every warrant handed down by the court is actively pursued by the local law enforcement. There are hundreds of outstanding warrants from municipal court in Santa Fe, for example, and the police do not have the time or manpower to hunt down each defendant. Instead, those warrants may remain on the books for years until you are pulled over for a routine traffic stop and an ID check turns up the warrant for arrest. For warrants involving violence and drugs, the police may assign an officer to hunt down the defendant at known places of work or residence.
Hiring a Lawyer
Hiring a lawyer to represent you when you first appear before the court on the arrest warrant is highly recommended. Having a criminal defense lawyer present at the court hearing tells the judge that you are taking this case seriously and that you are not a flight risk. Also, the lawyer may convince the court to drop the warrant fee or at least to lower the bond for your release to a reasonable amount. The lawyer can explain why you may not have received notice in the first place. The lawyer can also gain information about your employment history, family situation and other factors that weigh in favor of early release from jail