Bench Warrant Law & Legal Definition


A bench warrant is a court order authorizing the seizure of a person in order for them to appear in court. It is commonly found in the situation of a person who is required to answer a charge of contempt or a witness who has failed to appear in court after proper service of a subpoena. A civil bench warrant is issued for failure to comply with a court order in a civil case, such as an order to appear in court. A criminal bench warrant is issued for failure to comply with a court order in a criminal case, such as where an indictment has been handed down against a person who is at large, and that person does not appear or remain in attendance for his trial. If a person fails to appear in court when she has been properly ordered to do so, the judge is authorized to issue a bench warrant authorizing a law enforcement officer to arrest someone. Arrest under a bench warrant may usually be made at any time of the day or night. Persons who are still wanted for arrest are described as subject to an active warrant, a closed warrant indicates a case that has been disposed of in some manner.

Once a bench warrant is issued, the police can treat it like any other arrest warrant -- and use it to bring the defendant back in front of the judge. By contrast, the arrest warrant process is started by a police officer. An arrest warrant exists until it has been served (i.e the suspect has been arrested) or it is withdrawn by the issuing agency or the court.

A police officer with a bench warrant may break open a door or window to enter a home if the occupants refuse to let him/her in. The officer must first give you notice of his/her authority and purpose except that entrance into the home may be made without notice if the officer reasonably believes that the wanted person will escape, destroy evidence or that notice will endanger him/her.