The Reality of Warrants
Most people are generally familiar with the meaning of a warrant. It is a document issued by the Court authorizing the police to make an arrest or search premises. What is less familiar is the issuance of a warrant for failure to appear in court. Commonly known as a “capias” or “bench warrant,” a warrant for failure to appear in criminal court may catch someone by surprise for several reasons.
For starters, you may not have realized that you had court until it was too late; perhaps you don’t even think you should have been charged with a crime in the first place. A light view of the matter due to your circumstances, combined with the Hollywood portrayal of warrants as a tool for arresting only the “really bad guys” after a dramatic forensic investigation, may lead you into thinking that there couldn’t possibly be a warrant for your arrest.
Unfortunately, bench warrants for criminal cases in Palm Beach County are more common than you think. If you missed court for any reason – sickness, forgetfulness, feeling wrongfully accused, childcare issues, transportation issues – there is a high likelihood you have a warrant for your arrest.
How Does a Bench Warrant Work?
Criminal court sessions are organized by dockets – a list of defendants (those accused of committing a crime) with their case numbers and charges scheduled for that day in a given courtroom. Typically, a defendant – or the attorney of record – can call up his or her case and address the matter; oftentimes the action taken at a court date is to reset the case for thirty (30), forty-five (45), or ninety (90) days while the defendant awaits the evidence or decides whether to accept a plea or go to trial. Toward the end of the court session, a judge and the clerks of court will review the docket to see what cases have not been addressed. If the judge calls your case and you (or your lawyer) do not respond, the judge will likely issue a capias.
The bond amount for your bench warrant will depend on the nature and degree of your current charge, your criminal record, whether or not you live locally, and whether or not you have failed to appear for court hearings in the past. For misdemeanors, a capias typically carries a bond amount of $2,000. Felony bond amounts can range from $5,000 to “no bond” (meaning you cannot pay a bond for your release and must see a judge first).
The Execution of a Bench Warrant
From the moment a judge pronounces and signs a warrant, law enforcement is ordered to execute that warrant; in other words, if the police make contact with you, they have no choice but to arrest you. The good news is that bench warrants normally do not come with a search warrant. This means that, while police must arrest you upon contact, they cannot enter your house to accomplish this. Nevertheless, if you leave the house at all, you are certainly in danger of getting caught.
If you are arrested on an executed warrant, you will be transported to the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office (PBSO), booked on the failure to appear, and be required to produce your bond amount in order to get out. You may either solicit the help of a family member to pay the bond in full or contact a bondsman. A bondsman will require you to pay 10% of the bond amount; the bondsman then pays your full bond and is responsible for ensuring your appearance in court. If you don’t “bond out” prior to first appearances in the morning – first appearances are court hearings held daily at the Criminal Justice Complex or “Gun Club” to determine bond and probable cause for arrests – you may end up appearing before a judge on your failure to appear. The first appearance judge will likely affirm your bond amount and schedule you to appear before the same judge who issued the capias.
Avoiding a Bench Warrant
Needless to say, a warrant can be the source of extreme stress for an individual. If you can avoid it, then avoid it!
You can avoid getting a bench warrant by arriving to your court hearing on time. Make sure you understand the time of your hearing and location of your courtroom. If you are not sure where and when to attend court, call the Palm Beach County Clerk and Comptroller for assistance.
Alternatively, you can avoid a warrant by hiring an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Palm Beach County. In many cases, a lawyer can waive your presence in court after filing the Notice of Representation or Notice of Appearance on your behalf. This means that as long as your lawyer attends your court hearing, you are not required to attend. Hiring a criminal defense attorney in Palm Beach County may not only help you avoid a warrant, but also reduce the amount of time and stress associated with your case.
If you or your lawyer cannot attend a court hearing, you or your lawyer must file a Motion for Continuance well in advance of the hearing, or get the prosecution to agree to a continuance. In the motion, you must articulate your good-faith basis for continuing the case and ask to reset the case for a future date. The judge has the ultimate authority to grant or deny your motion for continuance, and may require you to come to court anyway to argue the motion.
Removing a Bench Warrant
If you are in the unfortunate situation of already having a warrant in Palm Beach County, you should contact a local attorney immediately. An attorney in Palm Beach County can look up your warrant, contact the necessary parties, and either get an agreed order to recall your capias (aka remove your bench warrant) or schedule a motion to recall capias as soon as possible. A motion to recall capias should contain the reason for your failure to appear (perhaps it was not willful), the status of your case (perhaps the hearing you missed was only a status hearing rather than a trial), and any other information that may assist the judge in making a favorable determination.
The sooner you address your warrant, the greater your chances of avoiding an arrest. Waiting it out will have you on the run indefinitely.
We are Here to Help
Casanova Law is a criminal defense firm in Wellington experienced in addressing bench warrants. Our leading attorney, Lourdes Casanova, is a former prosecutor for Palm Beach County with thousands of cases under her belt. We will get on your warrant quickly and try to resolve the issue as painlessly and efficiently as possible.
We are available from 9am-5pm Monday through Friday; additionally, should you have a legal emergency such as a warrant, you may leave a message after hours and we will contact you as soon as possible.
Contact us today to schedule a consultation regarding your bench warrant.