Bench Warrants in Pennsylvania
If you have missed court as a complainant or a defendant, you may have a bench warrant. Bench warrants can be a serious problem because they can lead to the revocation and forfeiture of bail or a contempt citation and potential jail time. If you have an outstanding warrant for your arrest and would like assistance in turning yourself in and avoiding jail time as punishment for the warrant, our Philadelphia, PA criminal defense lawyers can help. Call or text 267-225-2545 to speak with an experienced and understanding defense attorney today. Although we provide general information about bench warrants here, we can help give you more specific advice on how to handle your individual case for the best possible results.
What will happen if I don’t go to court?
If you were subpoenaed for court as a defendant and miss your court date without letting the court know, you will almost certainly receive a bench warrant. You could also be held in contempt and have your bail revoked when you are eventually arrested on the warrant. The same could be true for a witness in a case. The Commonwealth does not always seek to arrest its witnesses when the witnesses fail to appear, but in some cases, the Commonwealth could obtain a material witness warrant for you if you were subpoenaed for court to testify as a witness and failed to appear.
What is a bench warrant?
A bench warrant is an order issued by the judge directing any law enforcement officers with whom you come into contact to arrest you. This means that if you do not get the warrant taken care of and you get stopped by the police, the police will likely arrest you if they run your name and find out that you have a warrant. If you have an outstanding warrant, you could also run into problems when attempting to travel in and out of the country or by airplane.
Are there any other punishments for missing court?
Eventually, you will likely get arrested or decide to turn yourself in. When you go before a judge to have the warrant lifted, there are other potential punishments that the judge could impose. For example, a judge could hold you in contempt, which can be punished by a fine or a jail sentence of up to six months. Additionally, the judge could revoke your bail if the judge concludes that you are a flight risk or the judge could raise your bail so that you have to pay more money in order to get released. You could also be required to pay a significant amount of money to the county or city if your bail is forfeited. In most counties in Pennsylvania, the defendant or the surety actually pays 10% of the bail amount. This means that if bail is set at $100,000, then the defendant would have to pay $10,000 in order to be released. If a judge finds that the defendant willfully missed court, then the defendant could be required to post the other $90,000.
How can I get a bench warrant lifted?
In most cases, the only way to get a bench warrant lifted is by turning yourself in. When you turn yourself in, the court must schedule a bench warrant hearing before a judge or commissioner within 72 hours. If the 72 hours falls on a weekend or holiday, then the hearing may be scheduled for the next regular business day. The judge who conducts the bench warrant hearing will lift the bench warrant and determine whether to reinstate and release you on the same bail, revoke bail, or raise the bail. Additionally, the prosecution may move for contempt, in which case you would have a contempt hearing.
In Philadelphia, you turn yourself in at the basement of the Criminal Justice Center. You must be there early in the morning, and then you will be seen that day and potentially released. The consequences are almost always less severe if you voluntarily turn yourself in and retain counsel to represent you at the bench warrant hearing. If you do not turn yourself in but get arrested, you will be taken to the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility and held until you can see the bench warrant judge from the prison for a video hearing.
What is a judge-only bench warrant?
A judge-only bench warrant means that when you get arrested on the warrant or turn yourself in, your bench warrant hearing will be held before the judge that originally issued the warrant. In Philadelphia, if you receive a normal bench warrant, then the warrant will be addressed by whichever judge happens to be assigned to bench warrant court on the day that you have your hearing. If you receive a judge-only warrant, then you will have the warrant addressed by the judge who issued it.
How long can they hold me on a bench warrant?
The Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure provide that the hearing must be scheduled within 72 hours or on the next business day if the 72 hour period falls on a weekend or holiday. Once the warrant is lifted, you could still be held if the judge raises or revokes your bail. This is true both for criminal defendants and material witnesses.
What happens after the bench warrant is lifted?
Once the bench warrant is lifted, the judge will schedule the case for the next hearing. If you missed your preliminary hearing, then the judge would schedule the case for the preliminary hearing. If you missed your trial date, then the case would be scheduled for trial. It is relatively rare, but in some cases, the court may conduct a hearing or trial in your absence if the court finds that you willfully failed to appear. Thus, it is possible (but unlikely) that you may have been found guilty in absentia, in which case you would have to serve your sentence.
How can I find out if I have a bench warrant?
If you missed court as a defendant, you probably have a bench warrant. The best way to find out for sure is by retaining a lawyer. If you are facing criminal charges and have a bench warrant, we are happy to look it up for you and discuss representation in the case and getting the warrant lifted. You can also check the public court dockets by searching for your name at https://ujsportal.pacourts.us/DocketSheets/CP.aspx. If you have a bench warrant, it will typically be indicated on the docket.
Case Study: Bench Warrant Lifted and Charges Dismissed in Commonwealth v. E.K.
Our Philadelphia bench warrant lawyers have helped numerous clients resolve both recent and older bench warrants. For example, in the case of Commonwealth v. K.E., Attorney Goldstein assisted a client who learned that he had an unresolved twenty-year-old bench warrant for knowing and intentional possession of a controlled substance. K.E. had been arrested approximately two decades ago for two misdemeanor drug cases in different jurisdictions at around the same time. Although K.E. resolved one of the drug charges through participation in a treatment program, K.E. did not realize that he still had an outstanding warrant when he left the program.
K.E. moved out of state, rebuilt his life, and eventually obtained a job as a professional which required a great deal of travel for work. Over the years, K.E. had trouble re-entering the country after business trips and would be detained for up to 24 hours, but K.E. had never been arrested or informed that he had a warrant for his arrest and pending charges. K.E. had even been stopped for traffic tickets and never been told of the warrant. When returning from a recent trip, K.E. learned that he had a bench warrant from the old drug case and immediately contacted Attorney Goldstein.
Attorney Goldstein put together a mitigation packet for the District Attorney's Office showing that K.E. completed drug treatment at the time, had remained clean for twenty years, and had gone on to have a successful career in another state. After receiving the packet, the District Attorney's Office agreed to lift the bench warrant and dismiss the charges without requiring K.E. to return to Philadelphia.
Why should I retain a Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer for help with my bench warrant?
As the previous example illustrates, our Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers have successfully represented countless clients in criminal cases and in resolving bench warrants. Each case is different, and results are never guaranteed, but the odds of a successful outcome are significantly higher when you retain counsel and turn yourself in voluntarily. In many cases, we are able to have a client’s bail reinstated and the client released on the same day. We offer a free criminal defense strategy session to any potential client. Call or text 267-225-2545 to discuss your case today.