A bench warrant in Nevada is a judge-issued order for a criminal suspect to appear in court. Anybody with an active bench warrant risks getting arrested by police, especially during a traffic stop.
On this page, our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys explain how Nevada bench warrants work and how to "quash" (get rid of) outstanding bench warrants so the defendant remains out of jail.
Note that there are many different types of warrants, and each has its own laws and procedures. Visit our other articles on how to quash Nevada warrants:
- clearing Nevada arrest warrants,
- resolving Nevada traffic citation warrants
- fighting Nevada search warrants
"Bench warrants" in Nevada ... similar to "arrest warrants" ... authorize law enforcement to arrest and detain a person on bail.1 But in most respects, bench warrants are quite different from arrest warrants:
Police have to formally ask judges to issue arrest warrants.2 In contrast, judges (called "the bench") issue bench warrants on their own without anyone having to request them. And whereas arrest warrants herald the start of a criminal case, bench warrants can occur at any time. In most cases, bench warrants crop up when the judge finds the defendant in "contempt of court in Nevada."3
A Nevada judge places a defendant "in contempt of court" if the judge believes the defendant failed to follow proper judicial procedure.4 Common (in)actions that may cause a judge to find a defendant in contempt of court in Nevada are:
- missing a court date (such as a Nevada arraignment, a status check, or a Nevada sentencing),
- ignoring a fine payment, not showing up to counseling, or not completing community service,5 and/or
- violating any other court order.6
As discussed below, being found in contempt of court not only results in a judge issuing a bench warrant ordering the defendant to come to court . . . depending on the case, the judge may also order a fine and/or incarceration,7 find the defendant in violation of his/her probation, and/or suspend his/her driver's license.8
Another time a Nevada judge may issue a bench warrant is when the defendant is not currently in custody but he/she has been named in an indictment9 or if he/she has already been convicted.10 And if a person refuses to testify before a grand jury in Nevada, a judge may issue a bench warrant on that person as well.11 But, Nevada judges are not allowed to issue bench warrants demanding a defendant to appear personally for a Nevada preliminary hearing (which is like a mini-trial that takes place early on in felony cases) as long as counsel shows up and files a waiver of the defendant's personal appearance.12
After a bench warrant is issued in Nevada...
Once a Nevada judge issues a bench warrant ordering someone to appear in court, that person's name is then added to a national database so any cop in any state could run the person's name and learn his/her warrant status. As long as the person's underlying case is not a Nevada felony, the police probably will not actively seek out the person to arrest him/her, and the bench warrant will remain outstanding until the person or his/her attorney goes to court to quash it.
Nevertheless, it is still vital to have the warrant quashed (removed from the judicial system) as soon as possible so the police no longer have license to apprehend the person on sight: If a cop is driving and just happens to run another driver's license plate and sees that the driver has a warrant, the cop can pull over and arrest that person even if he/she did nothing else wrong.
In sum, Nevada judges typically order bench warrants if they think that a person has defied the court, such as skipping out on a hearing or a fine. Bench warrants are meant to motivate the people named in the warrant to go to court and take care of their case as soon as possible.13
Note that bench warrants are valid only if the judge issues them within forty-five (45) days from the date the person allegedly failed to appear in court.14 If it is issued afterwards, his/her attorney can get it recalled.
If there is a bench warrant out for a person's arrest, his/her lawyer can file "a motion to place on calendar a proceeding to recall or quash the warrant" with the proper Nevada court. Then the clerk will set a new court date (usually two-to-five days later) when the attorney can appear in court and ask the judge to quash the bench warrant. But note that the person can still be arrested during this waiting time up until the moment the judge officially quashes the warrant in open court.
If the person's criminal case is for a Nevada misdemeanor crime, the defense attorney can usually get the warrant quashed and the bail eliminated without the person having to come to court him/herself. However if the person has a history of missing court appearances, Nevada judges may require that he/she personally appear in court before they consider quashing the warrant. And if the underlying case is a felony, the judge will almost always want him/her to come to court as a condition of quashing the bench warrant.15
Bench warrant law in Nevada vs. California
With Sin City being a major tourist destination for partying, many out-of-state residents may find themselves facing with various Nevada charges such as Nevada crime of DUI, Nevada crime of trespass, Nevada crime of disorderly conduct or Nevada crime of unpaid casino markers during their travels here. Out-of-state residents are advised to retain local counsel in Las Vegas as soon as possible to manage their cases to avoid bench warrants. But if out-of-state residents do get bench warrants, Californians in particular should know that Nevada's bench warrant procedures differ from their home state's:
In order to clear a California bench warrant, the person simply goes to the correct court clerk's office, asks the clerk to pull his/her case file, and appears before the judge minutes later. Las Vegas bench warrant attorney Michael Becker explains that it is an extremely 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 explained above, quashing a Nevada warrant is a more drawn out ordeal than in California: The defense attorney has to file a "motion to quash" with the court, which typically will not hear the motion until days later, during which the person can still be arrested. But if it is a misdemeanor case, at least the defense attorney can often appear in court on the person's behalf so he/she does not have to come back into Nevada at all. Of course in felony cases, the subject of the bench warrant usually has to be present.
When a Nevada judge issues a bench warrant, the judge is authorizing law enforcement to arrest the person and hold him/her. Sometimes bench warrants are issued with bail, which means that a person can be released from jail following a bench warrant arrest as long as he/she pays the bail amount. Sometimes bench warrants are issued with "no bail," which means that a person arrested on an bench warrant will remain jailed pending the next court appearance. The amount of bail is typically up to the discretion of the judge, who considers the person's criminal history and the underlying offense when calculating the amount.16 But once the defense attorney appears to quash the bench warrant ... and as long as there are no extenuating circumstances ... the person will usually get released on his/her own recognizance and have the bail exonerated completely.
As discussed in the next section, in rare circumstances a person can be jailed even if he/she appears in court in person to quash a bench warrant. Odds are greater of this happening if the person has an extensive history of ignoring court dates or if the bench warrant stemmed from allegedly violating probation in Clark County or elsewhere in Nevada.
If a Nevada judge finds a person in contempt for disobeying a court order ... such as by not showing up to court or skipping out on a fine ... the court may sentence the person to up to twenty-five (25) days in jail and/or a $500 fine in addition to any other reasonable expenses and attorney's fees incurred by any party seeking to enforce the court order.17 Failing to pay an administrative fine also authorizes the Nevada DMV to suspend the person's drivers license.18
And while a bench warrant is out for a person's arrest, higher courts such as the Nevada Supreme Court or Clark County District Court may refuse to hear any appeals the person files on his/her case.19 Las Vegas bench warrant attorney Michael Becker gives an example:
Example: Jill was convicted of DUI in North Las Vegas Justice Court. After failing to show up to her sentencing date, the judge issues a bench warrant for her arrest. If Jill appeals the DUI case to the Clark County District Court, the court can decline to hear the appeal because of the outstanding bench warrant in North Las Vegas Justice Court.
Note that if thirty (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 D.A. can bring an additional charge for the Nevada offense of failure to appear. Read 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." Consequently, non-citizens with Nevada bench warrants are advised to contact local counsel who are skilled in the criminal defense of immigrants to try to ensure that their resident status will remain unaffected.
It depends. In the majority of cases, quashing bench warrants is a common, minor blip in a criminal case: Once the attorney appears in court on the specified date to quash the bench warrant, the judge typically grants the request, releases the defendant on O.R. (own recognizance) and may even table any bail requirements.
But as discussed above, the judge might still want to jail the person even when he/she appears personally in court to quash the warrant. This could occur if:
- the person has a lengthy criminal history, and/or
- the person is a flight risk, and/or
- if the person does not have a satisfactory excuse for the circumstances leading to the warrant being issued in the first place.
So if there are any factors weighing against a person's favor of getting a bench warrant quashed in Nevada, it is imperative that his/her attorney appear in court with him/her to help persuade the judge to quash the warrant. A good Las Vegas criminal defense attorney attorney will be familiar with the Clark County court system and the entire bench, so he/she will know what tactics will prove most effective in quashing the warrant, reducing or eliminating bail, and avoiding jail.
Possible arguments a Nevada criminal defense attorney may employ to coax a Nevada judge to quash a bench warrant include:
- that the person never received a notice to appear (such as if the summons was sent to a prior mailing address), or
- that the person was diligent in complying with every other court order related to the person's plea deal or probation, and he/she simply did not realize he/she was required to furnish the court with proof, or
- that the person was truly unaware of the case or genuinely believed that the charges had been dropped.
In sum, judges usually quash a defendant's bench warrant when he/she follows proper procedure to quash it. But note that judges still have discretion to incarcerate anyone with a bench warrant whether or not he/she follows proper procedure to quash it. Consequently, a person is advised never to appear before a Nevada judge without counsel zealously advocating on his/her behalf.
Have a warrant in Las Vegas or elsewhere in Nevada? We can help...
Is there a "bench warrant" out for your arrest in Nevada? We invite you to have a FREE consultation with one of our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys. Call us at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673) today.
¿Habla español? Más información sobre las órdenes judiciales de detención inmediata en Nevada.
Our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys quash bench warrants and handle all other criminal matters throughout Clark and Washoe Counties, including Henderson, Boulder City, North Las Vegas, Mesquite, Laughlin, Goodsprings, Moapa, Moapa Valley, Bunkerville, Searchlight, Pahrump and Reno.
1 NRS 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.
2 NRS 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.
3 NRS 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.
4 NRS 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.
6 In re Mosely, 120 Nev. 908, 102 P.3d 555 (2004) (Judge issued a bench warrant where a defendant defied terms of a plea bargain).
7 NRS 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.
8 NRS 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.
9 NRS 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.
10 Benitez 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.
11 NRS 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.
12 State 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.
17 NRS 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.
18 NRS 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.
19 NRS 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.)