Do you think you might have a warrant out for your arrest? How would you know for sure? And what can you do about it? We answer all of your questions about Florida bench warrants here, from different types of warrants, to how to find out if one has been made in your name, as well as what to do (and not do) when a bench warrant has been issued for you.
Bench Warrants vs. Arrest Warrants
What is a bench warrant in Florida? And are all warrants the same? Nope, there are actually two different kinds of warrants. A judge may issue a bench warrant or an arrest warrant, depending on the circumstances. The Florida statute governing warrants is found in the title of Criminal Procedure and Corrections, in Chapter 901.
Bench warrants are made when you:
- Fail to appear in court
- Skip out of jury duty
- Are in contempt of court
- Have a probation violation
Bench warrants are the most common kinds of warrants. Sometimes they are called failure-to-appear, or FTA, warrants. A bench warrant starts with a judge and basically orders you to appear for a court date at a specific time and place, and gives police officers the power to arrest you no matter where you are. They’re usually used for minor offenses, like not showing up for traffic court or a legal hearing. Even if you’re not at fault for missing a court date, such as if the notice got lost in the mail or went to the wrong address, a bench warrant can still be issued for you. The courts always require and expect some kind of response. Going AWOL doesn’t work well here.
An arrest warrant is different because it involves a criminal investigation. Police officers are the ones that start the process for an arrest warrant. They gather evidence and bring it to a judge to ask for the arrest warrant to be issued. These are the types of warrants you’ll most often see if you watch crime shows.
Both types of warrants can end the same way: you turning yourself in or being arrested and taken to court by force. You can be arrested on the spot for either kind of warrant. However, it’s unlikely you’ll be tracked down by police solely for a bench warrant. In most cases, you’ll have broken an unrelated law, like speeding, and when looking up your information the officer will see you have a bench warrant and will almost certainly take you into custody then. You should also know that warrants do not have an expiration date, and they will not go away on their own with time.
Do I have a bench warrant in Florida?
How can you find out if you have a bench warrant in your name in Florida? The most reliable way is to call the county courthouse clerk or local police department and ask for a warrant search to be run. They will have the most reliable information in their system.
If you want to remain anonymous, there is an online option. The state of Florida maintains a public database through the Florida Crime Information Center. Records from the entire state are submitted here by law enforcement agencies. You can search these records using the full name, sex, race, and age or date of birth of the person with the suspected warrant. Be careful, though, because the online information may not be fully accurate or up to date.
I have a bench warrant in my name. What do I do?
If you’ve confirmed a bench warrant has been issued for you, and you want to avoid being arrested by police, you need to take action. You have three options:
- Contact the judge’s office or clerk to request a hearing to dispute the warrant
- Contact a defense attorney to help you lift the warrant
- Turn yourself in at the police department to wait for bail and/or a hearing
Of these three choices, the easiest and safest way is to hire an attorney. A good defense lawyer will be able to give you advice on what your best options are, based on your individual situation. He or she will contact the court and might be able to negotiate to get the warrant canceled. If your lawyer can’t get the warrant dismissed right away, they can make arrangements for you to appear at a new hearing without the risk of getting arrested first. You will need to show up at that hearing, either on your own or with your attorney, to have the bench warrant lifted.
If you do nothing and come in contact with law enforcement, they have the authority to arrest you immediately. You’ll be taken to jail where you must post bail to be released and be given a new court date. If you can’t pay the bail amount, or the judge thinks you won’t appear again and refuses to offer bail, you’ll have to stay in custody until the new hearing.
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You don’t have to try to take care of a bench warrant on your own, nor should you. A competent lawyer will know all the details about bench warrants in Florida state. They will be able to help you navigate the legal system with the least amount of pain and trouble, and give you the information you need to know to handle a bench warrant situation. A defense attorney can also deal with other charges or problems with the law you may be facing.
Having a bench warrant issued for you in Florida can be a scary position to be in. Don’t panic, and don’t ignore it, hoping it will disappear. It won’t. And in a short amount of time, the simple problem of a warrant will spiral into a complicated, costly, and embarrassing ordeal. A bench warrant has to be dealt with, no matter how uncomfortable it may be. If you’ve discovered you have a bench warrant in your name, contact a defense lawyer as soon as possible. They are your best bet to avoid getting arrested. Make sure to appear at all future hearings or court dates. Meet all the requirements given to you by the court system, and soon the threat of a bench warrant will be long gone.