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Penal Code 978.5 PC | Bench Warrants

March 21, 2024

Penal Code 978.5 PC | Bench Warrants in California

Getting a bench warrant can be a scary thing. You might get one in the mail and not know what to do. Or the police might show up at your door to arrest you on a bench warrant you didn’t even know you had!

This article will explain everything you need to know about bench warrants in California. We’ll cover:

  • What is a bench warrant?
  • When can a judge issue a bench warrant?
  • What happens if you get arrested on a bench warrant?
  • How to recall or quash a bench warrant
  • Failure to appear charges
  • Driver’s license suspensions
  • Fighting a bench warrant

Let’s get started!

What is a Bench Warrant in California?

A bench warrant is an order issued by a judge for someone’s arrest. It is different from a regular arrest warrant, which is requested by police when they have evidence someone committed a crime.

Instead, a bench warrant is issued when someone disobeys a court order or fails to show up for a court date. Common reasons for bench warrants include:

  • Missing a court date
  • Not paying fines or fees
  • Violating probation terms
  • Not appearing as a witness
  • Not completing jury duty
  • Not paying child support

Once a bench warrant is issued, the police can arrest you at any time, just like with a regular arrest warrant. You can be arrested at home, work, or anywhere else the police find you.

When Can a Judge Issue a Bench Warrant in California?

California Penal Code 978.5 PC allows judges to issue bench warrants when someone doesn’t follow a court order. Some specific situations where a bench warrant can be issued include:

  • You are ordered to appear in court at a specific time, but you don’t show up
  • You are released from jail on bail or your own recognizance, and ordered to appear in court, but you don’t show up
  • You are given a citation by police and promise to appear in court, but you don’t show up
  • You are ordered to personally appear in court, but your lawyer goes without you

Bench warrants can also be issued if you don’t pay fines, restitution, or child support. Or if you violate any probation terms ordered by the court.

Once issued, a bench warrant does not expire in California. It remains valid until you are arrested or until the warrant is recalled by the judge.

What Happens if You Get Arrested on a Bench Warrant?

If police arrest you on a bench warrant, you will be taken into custody and brought before a judge. The judge will decide whether to:

  • Release you
  • Set bail
  • Keep you in custody until your next court date

The judge will consider factors like your criminal history, flight risk, and the reason for the warrant. For minor issues like missed court dates, you may simply be released after paying a fine.

But if you missed court for a serious offense, or violated felony probation, you could be kept in jail until your case is resolved. The judge might also increase your bail amount or revoke bail altogether.

How to Recall or Quash a Bench Warrant in California

If you find out there is a warrant out for your arrest, you will need to get it recalled or quashed. This means having the court cancel or withdraw the warrant so you don’t get arrested.

To recall a bench warrant in California, you or your lawyer must appear in court to request it. The judge will then decide whether to recall the warrant or not. It helps to come prepared with a good reason why you missed court or violated a court order.

For example, if you missed a court date because of a medical emergency or car accident, bringing documentation can help convince the judge to recall the warrant. But if you just forgot about court or chose not to show up, you may have a harder time getting the warrant recalled.

Failure to Appear Charges

If you miss a court date, you may also face charges for failure to appear. Under California Penal Code 1320 PC, it is a misdemeanor to willfully fail to appear in court within 14 days of your scheduled date if you were out on your own recognizance.

The penalties can include up to 1 year in county jail and a $1,000 fine. You may face additional consequences like probation violations or driver’s license suspensions.

Driver’s License Suspensions for Failure to Appear

The DMV is required to suspend your driver’s license if you miss a court date for a traffic citation. They will not reinstate your license until you clear up the warrant or underlying traffic violations.

You can also have your license suspended if you fail to pay fines or follow other court orders. Multiple failures to appear or pay can result in longer license suspensions.

Fighting a Bench Warrant

Even if you missed court or violated probation, you may be able to fight a bench warrant to avoid some of the consequences. A criminal defense lawyer can help by:

  • Negotiating with the prosecutor to quash the warrant
  • Gathering evidence and documents to support your recall request
  • Presenting arguments to the judge for why the warrant should be recalled
  • Working out a resolution to the underlying case

In some cases, it may be possible to resolve the entire case without you having to appear in court. Your attorney can appear on your behalf and work towards a dismissal or plea agreement.

This can prevent an arrest and make it easier to get the warrant recalled. But it depends on the specifics of your case and requires an experienced lawyer.

What Should You Do if You Have a Bench Warrant?

If you find out you have an outstanding bench warrant in California, it’s important to act quickly. The longer you wait, the more likely it is you could get arrested at an inconvenient or embarrassing time.

Here are some steps to take:

  1. Contact a criminal defense attorney immediately to start working on a recall
  2. Follow your lawyer’s advice about turning yourself in or waiting for them to resolve it
  3. If you do get arrested, politely invoke your right to remain silent and don’t answer any questions
  4. Don’t miss any more court dates or violate probation while waiting to get the warrant cleared

With an experienced lawyer on your side, it is often possible to get a bench warrant recalled and avoid being taken into custody. But every case is different, so it’s important to get professional help responding to a warrant.

For more information or legal help with a bench warrant in California, contact a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney in your area.

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