Having an outstanding warrant for your arrest can be a harrowing experience. Until the warrant is cleared up, you have to go through each day with the threat of an arrest hanging over your head, knowing that you could be placed in handcuffs the moment you cross paths with a police officer.
Law enforcement officers may visit your home, your workplace, and even your family members’ homes. Family members who are pulled over for a traffic stop will also be questioned about your whereabouts. In short, life can be immensely stressful for everyone involved until the matter is resolved.
Bench Warrants vs. Criminal Warrants
There are two types of arrest warrants in Arizona that can lead to an arrest and jail time:
- Bench warrants – a judge will issue a bench warrant when you disobey a court order. You don’t have to be on trial to receive a bench warrant—it could be something as simple as failing to pay child support, report for jury duty, appear in traffic court, or testify as a witness in another case. The purpose of the bench warrant is to force you to appear in court to clear up the matter, either by compelling you to appear in court voluntarily, or allowing a police officer to arrest you and hold you in jail until you can be brought into court.
- Criminal warrants – when law enforcement has evidence that a suspect has committed a crime, the court will issue a criminal warrant based on probable cause. A criminal warrant may allow law enforcement to arrest you, search your property, or both. Once you are arrested, you will be held until the arraignment or release hearing. You may be released from jail if the judge allows you to post bail, though you will be required to appear in court at every hearing and comply with court orders to avoid returning to jail.
Of the two types of warrants, criminal arrest warrants are far more serious than bench warrants. In many cases, you can clear up a bench warrant by paying a fine or appearing in court. With a criminal warrant, your arrest is inevitable, though a criminal law attorney can negotiate for your swift release on bail.
How To Clear Up a Bench Warrant in Arizona
If you discover that you have a bench warrant, the good news is that it should be relatively easy to clear up without going to jail. Depending on the situation, you may even be able to resolve the matter without personally appearing in court.
When you’re ready to resolve your bench warrant, here’s what you should do:
- Check your mail – you should receive a notice from the court by mail when the bench warrant is issued. The notice will explain why the bench warrant was issued, what you are expected to do in response, and how to contact the court clerk with any questions. Note that if your bench warrant is in regards to a felony charge, the notice will be served in person rather than by mail.
- Call the court clerk – before you rush down to the courthouse, you should pick up the phone and call the clerk for more information. If you’re lucky, you may be able to resolve the matter by paying the associated fine over the phone or online. If a court appearance is necessary, tell the clerk that you’d like to meet with your attorney before scheduling an appearance.
- Hire an attorney – if you need to appear in court but you’re afraid you’ll be arrested, your attorney may be able to appear in court on your behalf. In cases where your physical presence is required, your attorney can communicate with the court ahead of time to ensure that you’re not detained, and your attorney will accompany you to the court appearance to represent you.
- File a motion to quash the warrant – if you have a legitimate reason for failing to appear in court (assuming that’s what led to the bench warrant), your attorney can file a motion to quash the bench warrant based on extenuating circumstances. If your motion is successful, the judge will dismiss the warrant and schedule a new court date.
Keep in mind that no matter how or why you were issued a bench warrant, it’s always better to voluntarily appear in court than to wait to be arrested. Judges are far more lenient with people who turn themselves in, and your attorney will have a much easier time keeping you out of jail if you do. If you wait until you are arrested, the penalties will likely be much more severe.
How To Clear Up a Criminal Warrant in Arizona
With few exceptions, the only way to clear up a criminal arrest warrant is to turn yourself in to the police and comply with law enforcement. That said, you should still speak with an attorney before you turn yourself in. Even if the attorney can’t help you avoid being arrested, they can ensure that you receive fair bail terms (maybe even a release without bail) and expedite the process to get you out of jail as soon as possible.
Penalties for Failure to Appear in Court
In the state of Arizona, a defendant who knowingly fails to appear for a court case may be charged with Failure to Appear in the First or Second Degree depending on the circumstances.
- Failure to Appear in the First Degree – if you fail to appear for a court date in a felony case, the result is a Class 5 felony. The punishment for a Class 5 felony is up to 1.5 years in jail and a fine of up to $150,000, though a good attorney may be able to lower the sentence to 6 months in jail if the court finds mitigating circumstances.
- Failure to Appear in the Second Degree – failure to appear for a court date involving a misdemeanor or petty offense charge can result in a Class 1 or Class 2 misdemeanor. A Class 2 misdemeanor is the default charge, with a maximum sentence of four months in jail and a fine of up to $750. If you fail to appear for another court date after being charged with Failure to Appear in the Second Degree, the court can escalate the charge to a Class 1 misdemeanor, which carries a maximum sentence of 6 months in jail and up to $2,500 in fines.
Need Help Clearing Up a Warrant in Arizona?
If you have a warrant out for your arrest, contact the defense team at JacksonWhite. Our experienced attorneys have helped hundreds of clients successfully deal with warrants and other charges, and we’re here to help you next.
Our team, led by attorney Jeremy Geigle, can explore your legal options and offer the counsel you need to get the fresh start you deserve.
Call the JacksonWhite Criminal Law team at (480) 467-4370 to discuss your case today.