Getting arrested on an outstanding bench warrant can be scary and confusing. At our criminal defense firm, we know the uncertainties you face: How long will I stay in jail? What happens now? Will this small matter spiral into something more serious?
This predicament leaves many feeling powerless. But knowledge can empower you. Gaining clarity around the bench warrant process in Texas equips you to make wise choices. Though each case differs, understanding potential consequences allows you to prepare mentally and legally.
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What is a Bench Warrant in Texas?
A bench warrant is a court order issued when someone fails to appear for a scheduled court date. It directs law enforcement to find and arrest the person, then bring them before the judge to answer for missing court. Police can execute a bench warrant by arresting you at home, at work, during a routine traffic stop – wherever you happen to be found.
Bench warrants are commonly issued for missing court dates related to both criminal and civil matters. On the criminal side, defendants out on bail who miss an appearance before the judge risk having a warrant issued. The same goes for subpoenaed witnesses who fail to show up and testify. In civil cases, individuals may face a bench warrant for contempt of court if they ignore orders to appear at hearings, depositions, or other proceedings.
How to Find Out If You Have an Outstanding Bench Warrant
If you have reason to believe you may have a warrant in Texas, there are a few ways to confirm:
- Contact your criminal defense lawyer – If counsel represented you for an underlying criminal charge, your criminal defense attorney likely appeared at the hearing you missed. They should be able to look into the court docket and tell you if a warrant was issued.
- Search online warrant databases – Many counties in Texas provide searchable warrant databases online. For example, Harris County offers free warrant searches on their website.
- Call the police or sheriff’s department – The law enforcement agency responsible for warrants in the jurisdiction can let you know if you have an active bench warrant. You can also call the courthouse or clerk’s office directly.
Getting Your Bench Warrant Dismissed
If you discover there’s a warrant out for your arrest in Texas, immediately contact a criminal defense attorney to start the process of getting it recalled. In many cases, getting a bench warrant dismissed is possible if your failure to appear in court wasn’t intentional and you have a reasonable excuse.
Strategies Criminal Defense Lawyers Use to Get Bench Warrants Dismissed
An experienced Texas federal crimes attorney has several strategies they may use to get your bench warrant lifted:
- File a motion to recall the warrant – This asks the judge to withdraw the warrant and schedule a new court appearance.
- Request a new court date as soon as possible – Getting in front of the judge quickly shows good faith.
- Provide evidence of extenuating circumstances – Doctor’s notes, accident reports, etc. can help show you missed court unintentionally.
- Negotiate with the prosecutor – Your attorney may be able to work out a deal with the DA to drop the warrant.
Consequences of Failing to Appear in Texas
When someone misses a mandatory court appearance in Texas, there are several potential consequences they could face:
- Revoke or Modify Bail/Pretrial Release Conditions – After issuing a warrant, the judge will likely change or revoke your existing release conditions. For example, they may impose bail if none was initially required, increase bail amount, or order you held without bond.
- Bail Forfeiture – If you already posted bail and then failed to appear, the court can initiate forfeiture proceedings and you’ll lose the money.
- New Criminal Charge – Failure to appear can be charged as a separate misdemeanor or felony offense.
Felony vs. Misdemeanor Failure to Appear Charges
The penalty for failure to appear depends on the severity of the original underlying charge:
- If you miss court on an existing felony case, the failure to appear can be charged as a 3rd-degree felony, punishable by 2-10 years in prison.
- Failure to appear on an existing misdemeanor is a Class B misdemeanor, with up to 1 year in jail as punishment.
What Happens After Being Arrested on a Bench Warrant?
When police arrest someone on an outstanding bench warrant, here are the next steps in the process:
- Taken into custody & transported to jail – Police will detain you once the warrant is confirmed and take you to the county jail.
- Held until first court appearance – You’ll be held in jail until your first court hearing before a judge, which must occur within 48 hours.
- Brought before a judge – At this initial court appearance, the judge will address the bench warrant issue and decide whether to set bail.
- Judge determines bail – If it wasn’t already set, the judge can release you on bail again, raise the bail amount, or deny bail entirely.
Sorting Out How Long You’ll Stay in Jail Requires a Case Review
Blanket statements about bench warrant jail times oversimplify a nuanced process with many variables. The circumstances triggering your warrant, criminal history, risk of flight, and ability to post bail shape your trajectory.
To guide clients toward their brightest futures, our Texas criminal defense attorneys immediately dive into case details. We can best advise each client by examining factors like:
- If pre-trial or post-conviction: Those with warrants issued before their trial face different procedures than those arising after sentencing.
- Underlying offense severity: Spending weekends in jail for misdemeanors differs greatly from months for felony probation violations.
- Unique reasons for missing court: Emergencies happen, and context matters when explaining to judges.
- First warrant or repeat offender: Previous failures to appear count against you in prosecutors’ eyes.
- Financial ability to post bail: Some warrants let you await trial at home if you pay the set bail amount.
Layering these variables determines your path. While we tailor time estimates case-by-case, some general timelines provide initial mental maps.
For Pre-Trial Bench Warrants
If your outstanding warrant stems from missing a key pre-trial hearing, arrest protocols typically involve seeing a judge quickly. Within 48 hours, officers must bring you before a magistrate per Texas law.
At this first appearance after arrest, several things could happen:
- The judge reviews bail terms and releases you until trial if affordable.
- If considered a flight risk, you stay jailed with trial timing unclear.
- Prosecutors sometimes request bail revocation after failures to appear if public safety concerns exist.
- Additional charges like contempt arise if defiant behavior creates your warrant.
So, post-arrest timelines lack concrete certainty. But for pre-trial warrants, resolutions or release often come within days of detainment.
For Post-Conviction Bench Warrants
Conversely, if you get arrested on a warrant issued after a guilty verdict, jail stays may play out differently. Say your initial drug offense led to probation. Then, you violated those terms, triggering a warrant and revoking your community supervision.
Now detained, you’ll likely serve the remainder of the sentence you were first given. So outcomes align with your unexpired punishment, ranging from completing:
- Weekends in jail for certain misdemeanors
- Months in prison for felony probation violations
- Full years in custody as required for serious convictions
In addition to finishing your prescribed jail term, expect new contempt of court charges for dodging probation rules.
Getting a Bench Warrant Lifted
To get a bench warrant cleared and released from police custody, here are some steps to take immediately:
- Hire an attorney to file a motion to recall a warrant – An experienced attorney can advocate to get the warrant withdrawn.
- Voluntarily appear at the court clerk’s office – In some counties, you may be able to get the warrant recalled by voluntarily showing up at the courthouse.
- Request a new court date to resolve the case – Appearing promptly shows good faith and gets you in front of a judge ASAP.
- Pay missed fines/fees if applicable – If issued for failure to pay fines, taking care of payments could get the warrant dropped.
Act Fast to Resolve Bench Warrants
Acting quickly with any outstanding warrants is important because bench warrants do not expire in Texas. The longer it goes unresolved, the more likely you’ll eventually be arrested at an unexpected time, and the more challenging it becomes to get the warrant withdrawn. Getting it addressed early improves your chances of avoiding serving jail time.
Work with an Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer
If you have a bench warrant in Texas, your best bet is working with an experienced local criminal defense attorney to protect your rights.
So don’t wait – if you have reason to believe you may have an outstanding bench warrant in Texas, reach out to the seasoned courtroom advocates at Whalen Law Office in Frisco, TX for assistance. Our team has extensive experience with Texas bench warrants, bail, and failure to appear charges, and a proven track record of protecting our clients’ freedom.