In Arizona, a bench warrant is a court order that instructs police to detain a person and hold him or her in custody until he or she can be brought before a judge to answer for defying a court order. The warrant is often issued after someone fails to appear for a required court date or has violated a term of probation.
Bench warrants can be quashed by showing that the violation or the failure to appear were excusable or justifiable.
1. What is a bench warrant?
A bench warrant is a court order that is issued by a judge for someone’s arrest after there is probable cause to believe that they have violated an earlier court order. The earlier court order can be:
- the requirement that a criminal defendant appear at a court date,
- rules of a defendant’s parole or probation,
- court-ordered payments of child support or alimony, or
- a restraining order or no-contact order.
In Arizona, if the bench warrant is issued after the defendant misses a court date, he or she will face a criminal charge of failure to appear. They will also have their driver’s license suspended.
Unlike Arizona arrest warrants, bench warrants are initiated by the judge, not the prosecutor. Like arrest warrants, they do not expire. Unlike search warrants, bench warrants let the police put the defendant in custody.
2. How do police execute an Arizona bench warrant?
When a bench warrant is issued for someone’s arrest, the police will be on the lookout for the defendant. The next time law enforcement interacts with the defendant, they will make an arrest and hold the defendant in custody until they can be brought before a judge.
Unless the bench warrant has been issued for a very severe offense, police in Arizona will typically not go searching for the defendant. However, because a bench warrant automatically suspends the defendant’s driver’s license, if police notice the defendant’s car on the road, they will likely initiate a traffic stop. This traffic stop will lead to an arrest as the police execute the bench warrant.
Once the warrant has been executed and the defendant has been arrested, the defendant will be held in custody until a bench warrant hearing takes place. They will likely be held on bail, especially if the bench warrant was issued for a failure to appear. They are unlikely to be released before the hearing on personal recognizance, which is a written promise by the defendant to appear at future court dates.
3. How can I find out if there is a bench warrant in my name?
Anyone in Arizona can search online or call the courthouse to see if they have a bench warrant out for them.
The Arizona Judicial Branch has an online portal for court information. Among other general information, this database has outstanding bench warrants. It covers 177 of the 184 courts in the state of Arizona, including the state Supreme Court, regional superior courts, and local justice courts.
People can search this portal for a warrant in their name by using their first and last name and their date of birth. If there is a bench warrant outstanding, clicking on the case number reveals the following details about the warrant:
- when it was issued,
- which court in Arizona issued it,
- any activity in the case, and
- what the warrant is for.
People can also search for a bench warrant by calling the phone numbers for:
- the Criminal Court Administration Information Desk at (602) 506-8575,
- the Arizona Department of Public Safety at (602) 223-2233,
- their local law enforcement department or sheriff’s office, or
- an Arizona criminal defense lawyer.
4. What is the crime of failure to appear in Arizona?
Failure to appear is the crime of knowingly not showing up to court when required to do so.
In Arizona, there are 2 degrees of failure to appear.
Second-degree failure to appear covers missed court appearances related to:
- petty offenses, or
- court dates following the defendant’s release on personal recognizance.2
If for a petty offense or misdemeanor criminal case, failure to appear in the second degree is a Class 1 misdemeanor. If for a scheduled court date after the defendant’s release on personal recognizance, it is a Class 2 misdemeanor.3
If a defendant fails to appear at a required court date, the judge will likely issue a bench warrant. Once executed, the defendant will then face criminal charges for failure to appear, in addition to the offense that required their initial appearance in court. These defendants will also struggle to get favorable bail terms for pre-trial release.
5. How can a bench warrant be quashed?
Bench warrants can be quashed, or overturned, by filing a Motion to Quash and then showing the judge that the violation of the court order or the defendant’s failure to appear was excusable or justified.
Once the motion has been filed, the court will schedule a hearing. At this hearing, the criminal defense attorney will explain why the defendant missed their court date or why the court order was violated. If the judge is satisfied that the violation was excusable or justifiable, he or she will quash the warrant.
Some reasons for quashing a bench warrant for failure to appear include:
- the summons was sent to the wrong address,
- the defendant was never notified of the court appearance, or
- the defendant was kept from appearing in court because of a serious event that was out of their control, like a car accident or a hospitalization.
Quashing a bench warrant requires the legal representation of a defense attorney from a local law firm. Defendants who try to quash a warrant on their own will likely be arrested on their outstanding warrant when they show up in court.
6. How is this different from an arrest warrant?
Bench warrants are similar to arrest warrants in numerous ways: Both stem from a legal violation and both end with the defendant’s arrest. However, they are different in the following ways:
- arrest warrants are initiated by prosecutors, while bench warrants are initiated by the judge, and
- arrest warrants are for violations of the law, while bench warrants are for violations of court orders.
This means that bench warrants, but not arrest warrants, are issued for the following violations:
- contempt of court,
- a missing juror,
- probation violations,
- failure to appear,
- failure to pay child support or alimony, or
- noncompliance with another court order.
- ARS 13-2507.
- ARS 13-2506.
- ARS 13-2506(B).