A bench warrant in Nevada is a judge-issued order for a criminal suspect to appear in court. Anyone with an outstanding bench warrant is at risk of being arrested by police.
In this article, our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys explain how Nevada bench warrants work and how to "quash" (get rid of) bench warrants so the defendant stays out of jail.
Our Las Vegas bench warrant attorneys know how to quash Nevada warrants of all types. Refer to our other pages on how to quash Nevada warrants:
- clearing Las Vegas arrest warrants,
- resolving Las Vegas traffic citation warrants
- fighting Las Vegas search warrants
Clearing Las Vegas arrest warrants, resolving Las Vegas traffic citations warrants, and fighting Las Vegas search warrants all have their own laws and procedures specific to Nevada.
1) What are Las Vegas bench warrants?
Similar to "arrest warrants," "bench warrants" in Nevada authorize the police to arrest you and detain you on bail.1 Otherwise, however, bench warrants operate very differently from arrest warrants in Nevada:
Whereas the police have to formally request judges to issue arrest warrants,2 bench warrants in Nevada are initiated by judges (called "the bench") themselves. And while arrest warrants mark the start of a criminal case, bench warrants crop up while a criminal case is already in progress, usually when the judge finds you in "contempt of court."3
You may be found "in contempt of court" in Las Vegas if the judge believes you neglected to follow proper judicial procedure.4 The typical (in)actions that may cause a Clark County judge to find you in contempt of court in Nevada include the following:
- missing your court date (such as an arraignment, a status check, or a sentencing),
- not paying a fine, attending counseling, or completing community service,5 and/or
- neglecting to follow any other court order.6
As described in more detail below, if you are found in contempt of court in Las Vegas, the judge may not only issue a bench warrant ordering you to come to court . . . depending on your case, the judge may also fine you, send you to jail or prison,7 find you in violation of your probation and/or suspend your drivers license.8
A Las Vegas judge may also issue a bench warrant if you are not currently in custody but you have been named in an indictment9 or if you have already been convicted.10 If you refuse to testify before a grand jury in Nevada, a judge may order a bench warrant as well.11 However, Nevada judges may not issue bench warrants demanding you to personally appear for preliminary hearings (which are like mini-trials that occur in felony cases) as long as counsel appears for you and files a waiver of your personal appearance.12
In short, Nevada judges typically issue bench warrants if they believe that you have done something wrong in a case, such as missing a court date or not paying a fine. Since bench warrants permit law enforcement to arrest you, they are supposed to motivate you to return to court on your own volition and redress the alleged wrongs as soon as possible.13
Once a Nevada judge issues a bench warrant ordering you to appear in court, your name is added to a national database and law enforcement may arrest you at any time even if you did nothing else wrong. If your underlying case is not serious, chances are the Las Vegas police will not actively seek you out, and the bench warrant will remain outstanding until you or your attorney appears in court to quash it. However, it is still important to get the warrant quashed (removed from the judicial system) as soon as possible so the cops no longer have license to apprehend you on sight.
As stated above, one of the most frequent reasons Nevada courts issue bench warrants is because you simply did not show up for a required court date, such as an arraignment, status check or sentencing. In order for the Las Vegas bench warrant to be valid, however, the judge must issue it within forty-five days from the date you allegedly failed to appear.14 If it is issued later, your attorney can get it recalled.
Otherwise, if there is a bench warrant out for your arrest, your lawyer will file "a motion to place on calendar a proceeding to recall or quash the warrant" with the proper Nevada court. Then the clerk will give you a new court date, usually two-to-five days later, when your attorney can come into court and finally quash your bench warrant. Unfortunately, you may still be arrested during this time up until the minute your attorney officially gets your warrant quashed in open court.
If your criminal case is for a Nevada misdemeanor crime, your attorney will almost always be able to get the warrant recalled and the bail eliminated without you having to come to court at all. However, if you have a history of missing court appearances, Clark County judges have the discretion to order you to personally appear in court before they grant the motion. And if your underlying case is a felony, the judge will almost certainly want you to appear in court before he/she agrees to recall the bench warrant.15
Differences between bench warrant law in Nevada and California
Since Sin City is a popular tourist destination for partying, it is inevitable that some out-of-state residents may find themselves charged with various Nevada offenses such as DUI, trespass, disorderly conduct or unpaid casino markers during their stays here. Out-of-state residents should hire local counsel in Las Vegas right away to handle their cases so bench warrants will not issue. But if bench warrants do issue for out-of-state residents, Californians in particular should note that Nevada's bench warrant procedures are very different from their home state's:
In order to clear a California bench warrant, you simply go to the proper court clerk's office in California, ask them to pull your case file, and appear before the judge minutes later. Las Vegas bench warrant attorney Michael Becker, who also practices in Los Angeles, explains that it is a very efficient process: "Although California residents have to appear in person to quash their bench warrants (unless they are for infractions), residents can quash their warrants the same day they learn about them as long as it is during court hours."
As you already read in the previous sections, to quash a Nevada warrant is a more drawn out ordeal than to clear a California bench warrant: Your attorney would have to file a "motion to quash" with the Clark County court, which usually will not hear the motion until days later, and you can still be arrested during this time. On the upside, if it is a misdemeanor case, your attorney can usually appear in court for you so you do not have to come back into Nevada at all. But if it is a felony case, such as for unpaid casino markers, you may have to be present.
3) What are the penalties and punishments for having a bench warrant in a Las Vegas court?
When a judge issues a bench warrant in Nevada, he is authorizing law enforcement to arrest you and hold you on bail-the amount of bail is usually up to the discretion of the judge, who takes into account your criminal history and the underlying offense when calculating the amount.16 But once your attorney appears to quash your Las Vegas bench warrant and if there are no extenuating circumstances, you will usually be released on your own recognizance and have the bail exonerated completely.
As described in the next section, in rare circumstances appearing in person to quash a bench warrant may cause you to be jailed in Nevada anyway. Chances are greater of this happening if you have an extensive history of missing court dates or if the bench warrant stemmed from you allegedly breaking probation in Clark County or elsewhere in the state.
If a Las Vegas judge finds you in contempt for disobeying a court order, such as failing to appear or failure to pay a fine, the court may sentence you to up to twenty-five days in jail and/or fine you up to $500, in addition to any other reasonable expenses and attorney's fees incurred by any party seeking to enforce the court order.17 Failure to pay an administrative fine also authorizes the Nevada DMV to suspend your drivers license.18
Furthermore, as long as a bench warrant is out for your arrest, higher courts such as the Nevada Supreme Court or Clark County District Court may refuse to hear any appeals you file on your case.19 For example:
John was convicted of DUI in North Las Vegas Justice Court. After missing his sentencing date, the court issues a bench warrant for his arrest. If John appeals his DUI case to the Clark County District Court, it can refuse to hear his appeal because of the outstanding bench warrant in North Las Vegas Justice Court.
Note that if 30 days or more pass from the time that the defendant was a no-show in court and he/she has not turned him/herself in, then the prosecution can bring an additional charge for the Nevada crime of failure to appear. Learn more in our article on the Nevada crime of failure to appear.
Bench warrants and immigration
As Las Vegas bench warrant attorney Michael Becker explains, "The criminal defense of immigrants in Las Vegas is a very delicate practice because the potential consequences include not only jail and fines but also deportation." Therefore, if you are a non-citizen in Nevada and a bench warrant issues for your arrest, be sure to call local counsel that is skilled in the criminal defense of immigrants in Las Vegas to ensure that your resident status will not be affected.
In most cases, quashing bench warrants in Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, Henderson and elsewhere in Nevada are routine procedures that are just minor blips in the criminal case. Once your attorney appears in court on the specified date to quash the bench warrant, the Clark County judge usually grants our request, releases you on O.R. (your own recognizance) and even eliminates your bail requirements.
As said earlier, however, the judge may still want to incarcerate you even when you appear personally in court to quash the warrant. This might happen if:
- you have extensive criminal history,
- you are deemed a flight risk, and/or
- if you do not have a good excuse for whatever circumstances led to the warrant being issued in the first place.
Therefore, if there are any factors weighing against your favor, it is especially important that your attorney is in court with you to help coax the judge to quash your Nevada bench warrant. Your attorney should be familiar with the Clark County court system and the entire bench, so he/she should know which tactics are most effective with which judges to help ensure that your bench warrant is quashed, your bail reduced or eliminated, and jail is avoided.
Some arguments your attorney may use to persuade a Nevada judge to quash your bench warrant include the following:
- that you never received a notice to appear in the first place (if the summons was mailed to an old address),
- that you otherwise followed every other order of the court with regard to your plea deal or probation and just did not realize you had to provide proof to the court, or
- that you were genuinely unaware of the case or honestly believed that the charges had been dismissed.
So although Nevada judges will quash bench warrants in most instances as long as your attorney follows the proper procedure, judges wield the discretion to incarcerate you anyway. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that you never appear before a judge in Las Vegas without counsel zealously advocating on your behalf.
To learn more about bench warrants in Nevada and to have a free consultation with one of our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys, call us at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673).
Our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys quash bench warrants and handle all other criminal matters everywhere in and around Clark and Washoe Counties, including Henderson, Boulder City, North Las Vegas, Mesquite, Laughlin, Pahrump and Reno.
1NRS 173.155 Form of warrant; fixing and endorsement of amount of bail. The form of the warrant shall be as provided in NRS 171.108 except that it shall be signed by the clerk, it shall describe the offense charged in the indictment or information and it shall command that the defendant be arrested and brought before the court. The amount of bail may be fixed by the court and endorsed on the warrant.
2NRS 171.106 Issuance of warrant or summons upon complaint or citation. If it appears from the complaint or a citation issued pursuant to NRS 484.795, 488.920 or 501.386, or from an affidavit or affidavits filed with the complaint or citation that there is probable cause to believe that an offense, triable within the county, has been committed and that the defendant has committed it, a warrant for the arrest of the defendant shall be issued by the magistrate to any peace officer. Upon the request of the district attorney a summons instead of a warrant shall issue. More than one warrant or summons may issue on the same complaint or citation. If a defendant fails to appear in response to the summons, a warrant shall issue.
3NRS 22.010 Acts or omissions constituting contempts. The following acts or omissions shall be deemed contempts: 1. Disorderly, contemptuous or insolent behavior toward the judge while he is holding court, or engaged in his judicial duties at chambers, or toward masters or arbitrators while sitting on a reference or arbitration, or other judicial proceeding. 2. A breach of the peace, boisterous conduct or violent disturbance in the presence of the court, or in its immediate vicinity, tending to interrupt the due course of the trial or other judicial proceeding. 3. Disobedience or resistance to any lawful writ, order, rule or process issued by the court or judge at chambers. 4. Disobedience of a subpoena duly served, or refusing to be sworn or answer as a witness. 5. Rescuing any person or property in the custody of an officer by virtue of an order or process of such court or judge at chambers. 6. Disobedience of the order or direction of the court made pending the trial of an action, in speaking to or in the presence of a juror concerning an action in which the juror has been impaneled to determine, or in any manner approaching or interfering with such juror with the intent to influence his verdict. 7. Abusing the process or proceedings of the court or falsely pretending to act under the authority of an order or process of the court.
4NRS 22.040 Issuance of warrants of attachment and commitment. When the contempt is not committed in the immediate view and presence of the court or judge, a warrant of attachment may be issued to bring the person charged to answer, or, without a previous arrest, a warrant of commitment may, upon notice, or upon an order to show cause, be granted; and no warrant of commitment shall be issued without such previous attachment to answer, or such notice or order to show cause.
6In re Mosely, 120 Nev. 908, 102 P.3d 555 (2004) (Judge issued a bench warrant where a defendant defied terms of a plea bargain).
7NRS 22.100 Penalty for contempt. 1. Upon the answer and evidence taken, the court or judge or jury, as the case may be, shall determine whether the person proceeded against is guilty of the contempt charged. 2. Except as otherwise provided in NRS 22.110, if a person is found guilty of contempt, a fine may be imposed on him not exceeding $500 or he may be imprisoned not exceeding 25 days, or both. 3. In addition to the penalties provided in subsection 2, if a person is found guilty of contempt pursuant to subsection 3 of NRS 22.010, the court may require the person to pay to the party seeking to enforce the writ, order, rule or process the reasonable expenses, including, without limitation, attorney's fees, incurred by the party as a result of the contempt.
8NRS 483.443 Suspension of license for failure to comply with certain subpoenas or warrants or failure to satisfy arrearage in payment of support for child; reinstatement of license . 4. The Department shall suspend immediately the license of a defendant if so ordered pursuant to NRS 176.064.
9NRS 173.145 Issuance of warrant or summons. 1. Upon the request of the Attorney General acting pursuant to a specific statute or the district attorney, the court shall issue a warrant for each defendant named in the indictment or information. 2. The clerk shall issue a summons instead of a warrant upon the request of the district attorney, the Attorney General or by direction of the court. 3. Upon like request or direction the clerk shall issue more than one warrant or summons for the same defendant. 4. The clerk shall deliver the warrant or summons to the peace officer or other person authorized by law to execute or serve it. 5. If a defendant fails to appear in response to the summons, a warrant must be issued.
10Benitez v. State, 111 Nev. 1363, 904 P.2d 1036 (1995) (Judge issued a bench warrant after a defendant was indicted, and defendant was unaware of the indictment). NRS 179.395 Bench warrant after conviction. A bench warrant may be in substantially the following form:
State of Nevada }
County of............................................... }
The State of Nevada, to any sheriff, constable, marshal, policeman or other peace officer in this state: A. B. having been on the ........ day of the month of ............ of the year ........ duly convicted in the .................... Judicial District Court of the State of Nevada and in and for the County of ...................., of the crime of (designating it generally); you are therefore commanded forthwith to arrest the above-named A. B. and bring him before that court for judgment, or if the court has adjourned, that you deliver him into the custody of the sheriff of the County of .................... Given, by order of the court, under my hand with the seal of the court affixed, this the ........ day of the month of ............ of the year ....... .
E. F., Clerk.
11NRS 22.110 Imprisonment until performance if contempt is omission to perform an act; penalty for failure or refusal to testify before grand jury. 1. Except as otherwise provided in subsection 2, when the contempt consists in the omission to perform an act which is yet in the power of the person to perform, he may be imprisoned until he performs it. The required act must be specified in the warrant of commitment. 2. A person so imprisoned as a result of his failure or refusal to testify before a grand jury may be imprisoned in the county jail for a period not to exceed 6 months or until that grand jury is discharged, whichever is less.
12State v. Sargent, 122 Nev. 210, 216, 128 P.3d 1052, 1056 (2006) ("We . hold that where the defendant retains counsel who appears for him at a preliminary hearing, and when the defendant files a waiver of his personal appearance, a justice court lacks jurisdiction to order the defendant to personally appear. If the defendant or his counsel does not appear, the justice court would have authority to issue a bench warrant for his arrest.")
13 See John S. Goldkamp, Michael D. White, Jennifer B. Robinson, Context and Change: The Evolution of Pioneering Drug Courts in Portland and Las Vegas (1991-1998), 23 Law & Pol'y 141 (2001) (mentions how Las Vegas drug courts employ bench warrants to keep defendants who are enrolled in the drug program in check and accountable).
14 See NRS 178.508 Duties of court when defendant fails to appear; procedure for issuing order of forfeiture; when forfeiture becomes effective; grounds for extending date of forfeiture. 1. If the defendant fails to appear when his presence in court is lawfully required for the commission of a misdemeanor and the failure to appear is not excused or is lawfully required for the commission of a gross misdemeanor or felony, the court shall: (a) Enter upon its minutes that the defendant failed to appear; (b) Not later than 45 days after the date on which the defendant failed to appear, order the issuance of a warrant for the arrest of the defendant; and (c) If the undertaking exceeds $50 or money deposited instead of bail bond exceeds $500, direct that each surety and the local agent of each surety, or the depositor if he is not the defendant, be given notice that the defendant has failed to appear, by certified mail within 20 days after the date on which the defendant failed to appear. The court shall execute an affidavit of such mailing to be kept as an official public record of the court and shall direct that a copy of the notice be transmitted to the prosecuting attorney at the same time that notice is given to each surety or the depositor. 2. Except as otherwise provided in subsection 3 and NRS 178.509, an order of forfeiture of any undertaking or money deposited instead of bail bond must be prepared by the clerk of court and signed by the court. An order of forfeiture must include the date on which the forfeiture becomes effective. If the defendant who failed to appear has been charged with the commission of a gross misdemeanor or felony, a copy of the order must be forwarded to the Office of Court Administrator. The undertaking or money deposited instead of bail bond is forfeited 180 days after the date on which the notice is mailed pursuant to subsection 1. 3. The court may extend the date of the forfeiture for any reasonable period set by the court if the surety or depositor submits to the court: (a) An application for an extension and the court determines that the surety or the depositor is making reasonable and ongoing efforts to bring the defendant before the court. (b) An application for an extension on the ground that the defendant is temporarily prevented from appearing before the court because the defendant: (1) Is ill; (2) Is insane; or (3) Is being detained by civil or military authorities, and the court, upon hearing the matter, determines that one or more of the grounds described in this paragraph exist and that the surety or depositor did not in any way cause or aid the absence of the defendant.
17NRS 22.100 Penalty for contempt. 1. Upon the answer and evidence taken, the court or judge or jury, as the case may be, shall determine whether the person proceeded against is guilty of the contempt charged. 2. Except as otherwise provided in NRS 22.110, if a person is found guilty of contempt, a fine may be imposed on him not exceeding $500 or he may be imprisoned not exceeding 25 days, or both. 3. In addition to the penalties provided in subsection 2, if a person is found guilty of contempt pursuant to subsection 3 of NRS 22.010, the court may require the person to pay to the party seeking to enforce the writ, order, rule or process the reasonable expenses, including, without limitation, attorney's fees, incurred by the party as a result of the contempt.
18NRS 483.443 Suspension of license for failure to comply with certain subpoenas or warrants or failure to satisfy arrearage in payment of support for child; reinstatement of license . 4. The Department shall suspend immediately the license of a defendant if so ordered pursuant to NRS 176.064.
19NRS 189.060 Grounds for dismissal of appeal; enforcement of judgment. 1. The appeal may be dismissed on either of the following grounds: (a) For failure to take the same in time. (b) For failure to appear in the district court when required 2. If the appeal is dismissed, a copy of the order of dismissal must be remitted to the justice, who may proceed to enforce the judgment. Closset v. Closset, 71 Nev. 80, 280 P.2d 290 (1955). (An appellate court has the discretion to dismiss an appeal of a party who is evading arrest pursuant to a contempt order and bench warrant.)