Although both arrest warrants and bench warrants can lead to someone being taken into police custody, they are usually issued for different reasons, under different circumstances and are handled differently by law enforcement.
An arrest warrant is issued when law enforcement has a reasonable suspicion that an individual has committed a crime. In these situations, police officers will actively attempt to locate and bring the individual into custody.
An arrest warrant, generally written by a judge, authorizes law enforcement to locate and arrest a person whose presence is being requested by a criminal court. There is a statute of limitations limiting the amount of time the state can prosecute you for a crime and thus issue a warrant – generally two years for misdemeanors and seven years for low-level felonies, with no statute of limitations for more serious offenses such as murder.
Arrest warrants do not expire, and you may not even be aware one has been issued for you until law enforcement arrives. Based on an affidavit provided by law enforcement or district attorneys, an arrest warrant will typically carry the following information:
• Details of the offense in question
• Pertinent details about the suspect
• Date the warrant was issued and permitted time for the arrest
• Certain bail and bond conditions
• The name of the arresting officer
Ideally, an attorney will check for outstanding arrest warrants on your behalf, to prevent you from disclosing your location or incriminating yourself. Checking an arrest warrant can often mean calling or appearing in person to present a government ID, allowing law enforcement to take you into custody and question you without any legal protections. Instead of going solo, your attorney can act as an intermediary in gaining information about the warrant, and the charges against you, protecting your rights, and in certain situations present evidence to discredit and prove that the charges against you have no merit and should be dismissed. Many innocent people falsely believe they can talk things through with the police or court system on their own. This can lead to very negative consequences. Before you make a decision, we invite you to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation to explore your options before you contact the police or court system.
Typically, the majority of arrest warrants will be created by law enforcement following an investigation, but in Georgia, individuals can also apply for a warrant if they believe they were the victim of a crime and the perpetrator has not been arrested. The applicant for the warrant will apply for a hearing to present a judge with evidence of probable cause, with the judge then deciding to issue a warrant or deny the applicant.
In contrast, a bench warrant is issued by a judge, typically at a later stage in the criminal process. When a bench warrant is issued, law enforcement will not be dispatched to find the individual. However, if the police encounter an individual with a bench warrant in the course of their duties, such as at the scene of an accident or at a traffic stop, they will arrest the person at the scene.
Bench warrants may be issued for any number of reasons but some of the most common ones are:
Judges are given discretion to make decisions based on the circumstances of the matters before them. Although the above scenarios often lead to bench warrants, judges have the ability to issue more standard arrest warrants when the situation is serious enough.
Since law enforcement will arrest anyone with a bench warrant that they encounter, it’s generally best (and safest) to have an attorney check for bench warrants on your behalf. An attorney can check with the county clerk, local court or sheriff’s office to see if a bench warrant has been issued against their clients without needing to reveal their location.
If you or a loved one have or even just suspect that you might have a bench warrant issued against you, it is important to talk with an attorney immediately. Attorneys can help in several ways:
Regardless of the outcome, it is important to have proper legal representation when dealing with bench warrants. Experienced lawyers know the legal system and can help explain the possible choices and outcomes that are in front of you, empowering you to make the decision that makes the most sense for you and your situation.
At the Claiborne Firm, we’re here to help and advocate for you. To benefit from our experience and expertise, please use the form below to contact us.