After a person violates a court order, a judge may issue a bench warrant. Court orders may include (1) attending at a mandatory court appearance; (2) paying a fine or fee; (3) completing court ordered classes or counseling; (4) complying with other pretrial or post-conviction release conditions such avoiding new citations or arrests; or (5) paying child support. Once the judge issues a bench warrant, law enforcement may now arrest this person. Furthermore, the judge may or may not set bail depending on the facts and circumstances, meaning that after an arrest, the person may remain in custody for several days before appearing before the judge.
The easiest way to resolve a bench warrant is to file a "motion to quash" with the appropriate court. A motion to quash requests a hearing and an opportunity-out of custody-for the person to explain to the judge why he or she did not violate a court order or deserves a second chance. At the hearing, the judge will typically quash the warrant to address the alleged violation of the court order.
Resolving a bench warrant before having contact with law enforcement or traveling domestically or abroad is strongly advised. An outstanding bench warrant can also result in negative consequences for school and work, such as the inability to renew some professional licenses. Before filing a motion to quash, a person may therefore wish to speak with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney to determine the reason for the bench warrant. An attorney can help navigate any consequences for violating a court order, such as failing to appear for a mandatory court appearance or paying a fine or fee.
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After investigating an alleged crime, the prosecuting attorney may request an arrest warrant. To request an arrest warrant, the prosecuting attorney submits evidence to a judge or magistrate that demonstrates sufficient "probable cause" to justify an arrest. Probable cause requires more than just bare suspicion but is less than what is necessary to sustain a conviction ("proof beyond a reasonable doubt"). After determining that probable cause exists, the judge will sign the arrest warrant and set bail in most circumstances. Law enforcement may now arrest the person at his or her home, place of business, during a traffic stop, or during any other encounter with law enforcement, even if the person was the one that contacted law enforcement.
Unless the person is already aware of the criminal investigation, most people are unaware that an arrest warrant exists until they are arrested by law enforcement. Unlike a bench warrant (discussed above), an arrest warrant cannot be resolved with a simple motion to quash. Depending on the facts and circumstances, a person may need to "self-surrender" (be arrested) in order to resolve the arrest warrant. This can avoid the embarrassment of being arrested at home or work and a knowledgeable attorney will know who to contact to arrange a self-surrender. If the person intends to post bond or bail, a self-surrender may also ensure a faster and more efficient processing time at the jail.
Another method to resolve an arrest warrant is to contact an attorney and request a motion to voluntary appear-out of custody-before a judge and address the warrant. Instead of self-surrendering to law enforcement, this motion allows the person to appear before a judge and request an own recognizance release, a bail reduction, or other pretrial release conditions in lieu of detention. Like a self-surrender, this motion may also ensure a faster and more efficient processing time at the jail if the person intends to post bond or bail.
Resolving an arrest warrant before having contact with law enforcement or traveling domestically or abroad is strongly advised. An arrest warrant can also result in negative consequences for school and work, such as the inability to renew some professional licenses. Therefore, whether the person intends to self-surrender or appear before a judge voluntarily to resolve the arrest warrant, it is strongly advised the person speak with an experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney that can help navigate this process.
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