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Bench Warrant Walk-In

This commentary will explain answers to the common question:

“If I walk into court with a warrant, will I be arrested?”

The analysis will relate to Los Angeles Superior Criminal Court, and is specific for this jurisdiction. The likelihood of arrest in the courthouse generally increases depending on the level of severity of the warrant case, as well as the basis for the warrant, and legal excuses for the warrant which may exist. If you have a warrant, it is important to make preparations to expeditiously clear the warrant, as well as protect your legal rights during the process.

If you have a warrant in Los Angeles, you should seek counsel from a local attorney. If you have a warrant outside of Los Angeles, you should seek representation from an attorney who practices that area of law at the courthouse of your case.

I will preface my discussion with the caveat that there may be situations where warrants will be handled differently than in the explanations, below.

Felony Cases

If you walk into court with a felony warrant, there is a high likelihood of arrest. You are subject to arrest in or out of court in California, and possibly outside of the state. However, there may be ways to minimize some of the downsides to this process. An important issue with felony cases in Los Angeles is that your personal appearance for court hearings is always required, unlike many misdemeanor and infraction cases.

If you believe you have a felony warrant, you should immediately contact a criminal defense attorney where the warrant exists. Obtaining legal representation can prevent you from making mistakes which could harm your case at court. A defense attorney can quickly contact the court to determine, if in fact, you do have a warrant. If the attorney confirms this, he or she can help you make arrangements to prepare for the process, including determining if bail/release is an option.

Depending on the day of the week and court schedule, it may or may not be practical for your attorney to walk you directly into the courthouse. Bail is usually not modified at the first court date (there is a statutory “notice” requirement which exists for modification of bail). If it is not possible to surrender you directly in court, your attorney will likely make efforts to surrender you to a local police station. In either scenario, depending on the circumstances, you may be able to make arrangements for a bondsman to accompany you to assist in a more streamlined release from custody.

Misdemeanor Cases

Misdemeanor warrant cases have different scenarios than in felony or infraction cases. Depending on the type of misdemeanor warrant case, some courts will allow an attorney to appear in court, in lieu of a personal appearance of the accused person. The severity of the charges, legal excuses for the FTA, and related information will often dictate the likelihood that the court will require a mandatory appearance of the defendant. If you believe you have a misdemeanor warrant, you should immediately contact a warrant attorney familiar with the related courthouse, to determine how you should proceed. Your attorney will advise you about how best to recall the warrant, your bail options, and court procedure. In misdemeanor cases, unlike felony, there is a statutory right to bail.

Courts are a bit more flexible in modifying bail in misdemeanor cases than in felonies. Sometimes a solution can be formulated to resolve the warrant and case at the same time, depending on the circumstances. Your attorney can discuss this possibility, as well as related strategies. In any misdemeanor warrant case, you should always have attorney representation.

Traffic Tickets

Los Angeles Courts handle 1000s of cases each day in their traffic divisions. Because of resource and staffing issues, failures to appear (FTAs) on these cases are handled in a variety of ways. Some LA courts will issue bench warrants on these cases, which will be entered into the police databases, which can then be executed by law enforcement officers throughout the state.

Depending on the LA Court, warrants may be triggered the day of the FTA, or at a later date. While some courts will send out a courtesy letter about the FTA prior to issuing a warrant, this is not a general rule.

If you walk into court after a traffic warrant issues, there is always a possibility that you could be arrested. (Frankly, if you don’t go to court, there is always the possibility that you could be arrested in a much more inconvenient fashion.) If a warrant is issued on your traffic ticket, the FTA may trigger a DMV suspension, and set you up for more serious misdemeanor charges of Driving on a Suspended License, in addition to the warrant. This scenario has a tendency to spiral out of control, quickly, leading to an almost inescapable revolving door of Court/DMV actions.

Some courts are more aggressive in the warrant process than others. However, avoiding a ticket can result in additional negative consequences, which you will see, below. Thus, if you have an FTA it is best to face it head-on, as promptly as possible, and speak to a traffic ticket warrant attorney about the most expedient and appropriate way to recall your warrant. It may be possible for the attorney to recall the warrant without your personal appearance at court.

In many busy LA Superior Courthouses, FTAs on infraction tickets are “farmed out” to GC Services in a quasi-civil process. GC Services functions at the courthouse, like a collection agency, yet in conjunction with the Court and DMV. A traffic ticket which generally carries $135 fine can be escalated to an amount in the range of $1000. FTA tickets steered to GC Services may also trigger a “hold” or other negative action from California DMV, creating a significant Driver’s License problem. Depending on the courthouse, GC Services’ case matters can be difficult to calendar in court without posting exorbitant fees, and DMV actions remain in effect until the court “hold” is removed. It is best to quickly seek a traffic ticket attorney to determine your best solutions in these situations.