An arrest is rarely a pleasant experience for the person taken into custody. If you violate a criminal statute, a police officer could place you in handcuffs and take away your freedom. Knowing in advance that a judge issued a warrant for your arrest can offer you the opportunity to take some of the embarrassment out of the arrest process by allowing you to make arrangements to voluntarily surrender.
Before you begin planning to surrender to the police, you should know that a warrant might not mean that you are going to be arrested. There are two types of warrants: Arrest warrants and search warrants that judges can issue. Understanding the differences between the two of them might help you to avoid problems with the police and with the courts.
There are actually two types of warrants that a judge can issue that allow the police to take you into custody:
- An arrest warrant: Issued upon application of law enforcement officers or prosecutors who allege that a crime has been committed
- A bench warrant: Issued by a judge because of your failure to appear in court for a previously scheduled hearing or proceeding
If you are suspected of violating a criminal statute, police or prosecutors may submit a request to a judge asking that a warrant be issued for your arrest. The application for an arrest warrant must be supported by evidence that is usually in the form of affidavits from police officers or other witnesses proving to the judge that probable cause exists to believe that a particular crime has been committed and that you are the person who committed it.
An indictment issued by a grand jury might result in the issuance by a judge of a warrant for your arrest. Arrest warrants allow police to apprehend you at anyplace and at any time of the day or night. However, if you know that an arrest warrant has been issued, arrangements can be made for you to surrender to the police. By surrendering during the hours that court is in session, you could avoid being arrested at night and having to wait in a cell until court opens the following day.
Forgetting to go to court could lead to a bench warrant
The result of a judge issuing a bench warrant might appear to be the same as with an arrest warrant, you being placed in handcuffs and taken into custody, but the grounds for issuing it are quite different. Bench warrants are usually issued when you miss a scheduled court appearance in a criminal case without your attorney being able to offer an acceptable excuse for your absence.
The best way to clear a bench warrant is to contact the court to make arrangements to appear before a judge to have the warrant vacated. Be aware that judges can set bail on you even if you voluntarily appear in response to a bench warrant or an arrest warrant, so it might be a good idea to have an attorney with you.
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