What’s the Difference between an Arrest Warrant and Bench Warrant?

 In Criminal

In Texas, there are two primary types of warrants: an arrest warrant and a bench warrant. While each are issued under different circumstances, both mean one thing: You are WANTED. Here’s a look at the difference between an arrest warrant and bench warrant – and what you should do if one has been issued for you.

What is an Arrest Warrant?

An arrest warrant is issued by a judge or magistrate authorizing the arrest of an individual  suspected of a crime. Generally, it is initiated by a law enforcement officer who files a sworn statement, or affidavit, explaining in detail why he or she believes an individual has violated the law. If the judge finds that probable cause exists that a crime has been committed, he or she will issue a written directive —  called a warrant of arrest — for police to find and take that individual into custody.

While most arrest warrants are started by police investigating a crime, others stem from a grand jury indictment. If a grand jury returns an indictment against an individual who has not already been arrested, a judge or magistrate will sign an arrest warrant for the person named in the indictment. In these instances, the judge does not to decide whether probable cause exists because the grand jury has already made that determination.

According to Article 15.02 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, when a magistrate or judge issues an arrest warrant they must:

  • Specify the name of the person whose arrested has been ordered or, if unknown, give a description of the individual.
  • Name the offense the individual is accused of committing
  • Sign the warrant

What is a Bench Warrant?

A bench warrant is a written order by a judge instructing law enforcement to find an individual and bring them before the court. It’s called a bench warrant because it is issued by a judge sitting “on the bench.”

Bench warrants are commonly used when a defendant needs to be transferred from jail or prison to a specific court for proceedings. This is sometimes referred to as being “benched back.”

Bench warrants are also issued when a defendant fails to abide by the judge’s rules or court orders, such failing to appear in court or disobeying a properly issued subpoena. Under these scenarios, a judge can issue what is called a “writ of attachment,” which commands a peace officer to bring an offender or witness to court to respond to allegations of contempt or to testify.

What Happens When a Warrant is Issued?

Once the warrant is issued, it is an official court order that gets entered into a warrant database. That means it will be available to every law enforcement officer in the state and they are legally allowed to arrest you anytime, anywhere, including at home or work or during a routine traffic stop.

While warrants are commonplace in Texas, it’s important to point out that law enforcement do not necessarily require one to make an arrest. For example, police are allowed to make warrantless arrests if they witness a crime – such as shoplifting, a bar fight or a wrong-way driver, for example. For a suspect to remain in custody, however, the police must convince a judge in quick order that there was probable cause for the arrest.

Is There a Warrant Out for My Arrest?

Waiting for the police to find you and pick you up is a very stressful way to live. If you believe you have a warrant, it’s crucial that you consult with an experienced defense attorney. A skilled attorney may be able to take steps to help you avoid the embarrassment of being arrested in a public manner and will be able to advise you on how to proceed and fight to keep you out of jail.

Generally, it is very easy to confirm if a bench warrant has been issued for a person. It is a matter of public record. Arrest warrants, on the other hand, are generally not public before an arrest happens for a number of reasons. First and foremost, police don’t like walking in to arrest people when they know what’s coming. Despite this, for clients that hire our firm, we are often able to make calls and use our relationships to determine if there is a warrant or not. We then work on resolving or satisfying that warrant.

The Takeaway

The main difference between an arrest warrant and bench warrant is the process by which the warrant is initiated. Arrest warrants are generally triggered at the request of police conducting an investigation, while bench warrant are usually initiated by a judge who wants an individual in court. Both, however, can result in a ride to jail and should not be ignored.

Contact Us

If you believe there might be a warrant out for your arrest, or if you have received a call from a detective, put our criminal defense team to work for you. Call us at (817) 203-2220 or contact us online:

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