How Long Will a Bench Warrant Keep Me in Jail?
You missed your court date. Maybe life got chaotic juggling jobs and childcare. Maybe fear of facing charges paralyzed you.
Whatever the reason, now a bench warrant is out for your arrest.
Your mind races with anxiety, imagining police throwing you in jail over the warrant. How long could you stay locked up? Are we talking days, weeks, or even longer?
As criminal defense attorneys who have helped many clients navigate warrants in California, we understand your fears. But take a deep breath. Bench warrant jail time varies case by case, and options exist to minimize time detained.
In this article, we’ll walk through what drives warrant jail stays and steps for clearing things up quickly. With some knowledge on your side, you can reduce stress and stay focused on resolving the situation strategically.
What is a Bench Warrant?
When you miss a scheduled court appearance, the judge may issue an order called a “bench warrant” for your arrest.
These warrants apply for both criminal cases and civil matters like family court or traffic violations. The warrant alerts law enforcement to take you into custody and bring you before the court to explain why you failed to appear.
Judges don’t issue bench warrants lightly. They typically only do so if you:
- Miss a court date after receiving proper legal notice
- Disobey a direct court order
- Refuse to comply with bail conditions or probation terms
- Escape pretrial custody
- Commit perjury or contempt of court
Once issued, the warrant stays pending until “recalled” or cleared from the system by a judge. All the while, police could arrest you anytime.
So, how long might you stay in jail once picked up on an outstanding warrant? Let’s look at what impacts potential time detained.
Factors That Influence Jail Time When Arrested
If you do find yourself unfortunate enough to be arrested on an outstanding bench warrant, how much time you ultimately spend in jail depends largely on why the warrant was issued in the first place.
For example, if you’re a defendant in an existing criminal case and fail to show up for a required court date, you could potentially sit in jail for months until your case gets resolved by either a plea deal or trial. The judge wants to keep you in custody so that you don’t miss any other important hearings.
On the other hand, if you’re not an existing defendant but still landed yourself with a warrant —maybe you ignored a subpoena to testify as a witness or violated a civil court order like a restraining order — you’ll likely spend less time detained. Although you could still face contempt charges. More on that below…
Typical Jail Time When Arrested on a Bench Warrant
Unfortunately, there is no set timeline dictating how long you can be held in custody on a warrant.
The potential jail time depends on several factors:
- If You’re Awaiting Trial: If arrested on a bench warrant for a pending criminal case, you may be kept in jail through the completion of the trial. For serious felony charges, this incarceration period could stretch for months until your case gets resolved.
- If You Violated Court Orders: If the warrant stems from something like violating probation or ignoring a restraining order, expect to be held until you become compliant with the court’s directives. Refusing to follow orders even without an underlying case, can still lead to contempt charges and jail time.
- Contempt of Court Charges (Penal Code 166): Speaking of which, contempt is common when bench warrants come into play. Under California state law, civil contempt, like refusing to testify when subpoenaed, carries up to 5 days in jail plus fines. Criminal contempt bumps that up to a maximum of 6 months locked up.
- Failure to Appear Charges (Penal Code 1214.1): Defendants who miss court dates also face failure to appear on charges on top of their underlying case. For instance, a felony DUI defendant arrested on an FTA bench warrant could serve 3+ years just for the failure to appear.
It’s hard to estimate precisely how much time you’ll serve, but expect it to be a while. The warrant itself doesn’t dictate specific jail terms, but contempt or failure to appear charges certainly can. And post-trial sentencing for the original charges will tack on even more time.
Appearing in Court After Warrant Arrest
Once arrested on a warrant, police should bring you before a judge promptly during business hours. If jailed overnight or over a weekend, you’ll see the judge on the next business day.
At your court appearance, a few key things typically happen:
- Explain why you missed court – The judge will decide if you had a good cause.
- Get a new court date – To resolve the original case that you missed.
- Determine release terms – Such as lowering or waiving bail.
- Receive fine/sanctions – For the failure to appear if unexcused.
- Begin warrant recall – Start the process to remove the warrant.
The goal is to get the warrant cleared and the case resolved as quickly as possible. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can help negotiate pretrial release and fast case resolution.
Act Fast to Recall the Warrant and Minimize Jail Time
Waiting for law enforcement to randomly arrest you on a warrant is nerve-wracking. And it almost always leads to longer jail time. That’s why acting fast to recall the warrant is critical.
As your criminal defense counsel, here’s how we can immediately initiate the recall process:
- Contact the court to schedule a warrant recall hearing.
- Prepare a motion to recall the warrant and waive or reduce bail.
- Attend the hearing and advocate for your release.
- Negotiate to withdraw the warrant without you appearing in court.
- For active warrants, arrange your prompt surrender to begin the release.
- Explain mitigating reasons why you missed court.
Securing a warrant recall hearing swiftly limits time detained and gets you back on track. Depending on circumstances, recall may also be possible by phone or mail. Either way, prompt action is key.
The uncertainty of “waiting for the knock on the door” only worsens stress. With an advocate negotiating on your behalf, you can take control and move forward. Don’t wait – contact us today so you can breathe easier.