You’ve probably heard about bench warrants and arrest warrants. More than likely, you’ve heard detectives on TV say, “There’s a warrant out for his arrest.”
What is a bench warrant and how is it different than an arrest warrant? Or, are they the same thing?
Bench warrants and arrest warrants are not the same. A “bench warrant” basically means that someone was not sitting on the bench in front of the judge or magistrate when they were supposed to be.
Judges and magistrates issue bench warrants when defendants violate court rules. Usually, bench warrants are issued when defendants fail to appear in court. So, if you fail to show up in court, what happens next is the magistrate issues a bench warrant.
Once a bench warrant is issued, it will have the same power as any other arrest warrant. The local police can knock on your door or come to your place of employment and haul you away in handcuffs and take you before the judge.
How Arrest Warrants Are Different
Now you know that bench warrants are typically issued when a criminal defendant fails to appear in court. In contrast, a police officer initiates the arrest warrant process. A police officer believes they have probable cause to make an arrest, so he or she files a statement with the judge, explaining why they believe that a suspect should be arrested.
If the judge believes the police officer has probable cause to make an arrest (there’s enough evidence of a crime), the judge signs the arrest warrant, and the police officer has the OK to hit the streets and pursue an arrest.
This does not mean that police officers need to have warrants for every arrest – that is not the case at all. Most of the time, police officers don’t need warrants to make arrests.
Usually, the police seek arrest warrants when they want to nab an unsuspecting suspect while they’re off-guard in the comfort of their own home. It’s not legal for the police to go around busting down suspects’ doors without securing an arrest warrant in advance.