This page discusses warrants issued for misdemeanor violations by limited jurisdiction courts. Warrants for felony matters are different.
What is a warrant?
This post is discussing bench warrants, warrants initiated by a judge. There are also arrest warrants, initiated by a law enforcement agency and then signed by a judge. A bench warrant is called a bench warrant because it is issued by a judge and where the judge sits is called the bench.
A bench warrant is an order issued by a judge telling law enforcement to arrest the subject of the warrant. A judge issues a bench warrant when a defendant fails to follow an order of the court. In most of the cases we see, a warrant is issued because the defendant failed to appear for a court date. In other words, the defendant did not comply with an order to appear in court. This is known as a failure to appear, or FTA.
The purpose of issuing the warrant is to compel the defendant to appear in court and resolve their case.
Problems created by a warrant
When a warrant issues, this creates problems. And that is the goal of the court - that these problems will compel the defendant to appear in court. When a warrant issues, the MVD will suspend the defendant's driving privileges. This means that if the defendant is out driving after a warrant is issued and gets pulled over, he could get charged with driving on a suspended license, a class 1 criminal misdemeanor. The defendant may also get arrested for the warrant if pulled over. The defendant does not even have to commit any moving violations to get pulled over. Police are constantly scanning license plates looking for problems with registrations and with licenses of the registered owners. If the police scan the defendant's license plate, they will see that that there is a warrant and a license suspension, and initiate a traffic stop.
When a warrant is issued for a failure to appear, this creates an additional criminal charge in the case - a criminal charge for failing to appear.
How to get rid of a warrant
When a warrant goes away, it is said to have been quashed or recalled. There are a lot of courts in Arizona, and each court, or even each judge, has their own way of handling warrants. Possibilities include:
- If a defendant hires an attorney and the attorney appears in the case, a court may just quash the warrant and put the case back on track.
- A court might require the filing of a motion to quash the warrant before quashing the warrant.
- A court may require the payment of a bond amount to quash the warrant. $500 is a common amount for a misdemeanor case. Sometimes it is less, sometimes it is more.
- A court may require the defendant to appear in person to quash the warrant. This is problematic if the defendant lives outside Arizona. Sometimes a court that requires a personal appearance may allow the defendant's attorney to appear. Other courts might be completely unreasonable and refuse to quash the warrant unless the defendant personally appears or pleads guilty or enters into a plea agreement. These very unreasonable courts are typically outside of Maricopa county.
- A court might use a combination of the above, such as requiring both a bond and a personal appearance.
What to do if you have a warrant
Consider hiring an attorney, especially if you live out of state. If you want to handle it on your own, start with a call to the court. Ask the court how they handle warrants - what they require to quash a warrant. Once you know how that particular court handles warrants, then you will have a good idea how to proceed.
Will you get arrested for a bench warrant in a misdemeanor case?
If the warrant is from an Arizona court and you come into contact with law enforcement in Arizona, yes, you will probably get arrested.
If the warrant is from an Arizona court and you come into contact with law enforcement outside of Arizona, it is unlikely you will get arrested.
How do you get your license reinstated once the warrant is quashed?
You will need to pay a reinstatement fee to the MVD. Once the warrant is quashed, it will take a day or two for the MVD to process the notice from the court that the suspension is lifted. Sometimes the MVD never gets notice though. Then you will need to get an "abstract" from the court and take it to the MVD. And then you can pay the reinstatement fee.