Do Bench Warrants Expire in California?

If you violate a court order by, for example, skipping out on a criminal court date, refusing to pay child support, or failing to complete court-ordered classes, the judge may issue a bench warrant for your arrest. A bench warrant gives police the authority to arrest you on sight. Bench warrants are based on your failure to comply with a court order rather than any specific criminal activity. But what if you missed your court date by accident? What if you simply forgot, and now it has been years since the bench warrant was issued? Do warrants expire over time? Read on for a discussion of bench warrants, and contact a skilled Rancho Cucamonga criminal defense and bench warrant attorney if you may be the subject of a bench warrant in Southern California.

Bench Warrants Must Be Actively Cleared

The short answer to the question is: No. Bench warrants do not automatically expire in California over time. That means that if you are the subject of a bench warrant issued years and years ago, the bench warrant is still active, and you may technically be considered a “fugitive” from the law. Bench warrants will persist until either the subject of the warrant dies or the warrant is cleared (aka “quashed” or “recalled”).

Moreover, if your bench warrant is based on a failure to appear for a criminal court date, you may be charged with a separate crime under California Penal Code 1320. If you are out on your own recognizance pending trial and you fail to appear, you can be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the severity of the underlying criminal charges.

In order to get rid of the bench warrant, you will have to actively work with the court. A criminal defense attorney can help. With the help of your attorney, you can seek to have the warrant “recalled and quashed,” meaning the warrant will be cleared from the judicial system. Depending on the circumstances, your attorney may be able to appear on your behalf (if the warrant was based on failure to appear or failure to make a payment in connection with a misdemeanor case), but in many cases your physical presence in court will also be necessary. You or your attorney may be able to argue that you never received the notice to appear, that you actually did comply with all of the requirements in the court order, that you were unaware a case had been filed, or that you are being mistaken for someone else. Your attorney may be able to convince the judge to let you pay the fine or otherwise satisfy the failed conditions, including actually appearing for a new court date, in order to have the warrant quashed with no additional penalties assessed.

Notably, the government must actually serve you with a bench warrant within a reasonable time after its issuance in order for the warrant to be valid. Bench warrants can be served in the same manner as other arrest warrants. If the government fails to serve you with the warrant, your constitutional right to a speedy trial may have been violated, and your attorney may be able to get the warrant and other charges dismissed. Felony warrants can be served at any time, while misdemeanor warrants generally must be served between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., absent good cause.

Call Criminal Defense Attorney John D. Lueck for Help with Bench Warrants in Rancho Cucamonga

The Law Offices of John D. Lueck is a trusted Rancho Cucamonga criminal defense law firm with more than 42 years of service to clients in San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties. These cases are highly sensitive and require experienced representation to ensure your rights are protected. If you or someone you know has been arrested for a crime, contact Rancho Cucamonga criminal defense lawyer John D. Lueck for a free initial consultation.


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