Articles on South Carolina Law

13 Questions About Bench Warrants in SC

by | Mar 3, 2017 | Bench & Arrest Warrants, Criminal Defense

Finding out there may be a bench warrant out for your arrest can be terrifying. You may not be able to eat, sleep, or feel “normal” until you know for sure what is going to happen. No one wants to feel like they are watching over their shoulder all the time. You may want to find out if there is a warrant, but you may be wondering how to do this.

If you call the police, will they be “tipped off” and become even more encouraged to pick you up?

What if they pick you up at your job and make you lose your job?

You would be really embarrassed if your neighbors saw the police at your house walking you out in handcuffs.

What if you from another state and find out there is a bench warrant for you in SC?

Do you hide forever?

Common Questions & Answers About Bench Warrants

1. What is a bench warrant?

A bench warrant is used when a defendant needs to be brought back in front of a judge, but hasn’t done so on their own. You can get a bench warrant for you for many reasons, but the most common is skipping a court date. The solicitor/prosecutor asks the judge presiding over the hearing to issue a bench warrant, and the judge either does so or not.

2. Are bench warrants serious?

Yes, absolutely. Bench warrants should never be ignored, even if you feel you are completely innocent of the charge. Feeling that you are not guilty does not “undo” a bench warrant.

If you think you have a bench warrant, or if you know that you have a bench warrant out for your arrest, be proactive. Don’t wait until law enforcement finds you. Yes, they can pick you up at your job. Yes, they will leave their cards at your residence and maybe even your relatives’ residences until you are found.

This is a problem that will not go away.

3. Does a bench warrant expire?

No. Once a bench warrant is issued, the only way to make it go away is to deal with it. There is no time limit or expiration date on bench warrants.

4. Is a bench warrant a misdemeanor or a felony?

A bench warrant is neither a misdemeanor or a felony. A bench warrant is not a charge in itself.

5. What kinds of things are bench warrants issued for?

Bench warrants are issued when a person does not obey a court order and usually are issued when a person does not show up to court for a scheduled court appearance.

There may be valid reasons why someone doesn’t show up for court, such as a medical emergency, the person was incarcerated, or a change of address. These reasons do not mean a bench warrant will be thrown out (or “rescinded”), but your attorney may be able to talk to the Solicitor about your non-willful reasons for not appearing in court.

Here are some common examples of when bench warrants are issued:

  • You are under a bond (PR or Surety Bond) and don’t show up for a court date.
  • You have been found guilty and you don’t show up to court for your sentencing date.
  • You signed up for a payment plan at the court to pay a ticket or a fine and you don’t pay it. This can happen even if the court sent the notice to the wrong address since you are responsible for keeping the court up to date with your mailing address.
  • You don’t go to your court date, you are tried in your absence, found guilty, and a bench warrant is issued.
  • You are under subpoena to appear in court and you don’t appear in court.

The above list is not an inclusive one. There are a great number of reasons why a judge may issue a bench warrant for you.

6. Can a bench warrant be dismissed?

Bench warrants can be rescinded, or “undone”. An example would be your lawyer contacts the prosecutor in the case and explains there was a misunderstanding and the solicitor and your lawyer enter into a Consent Order, which is signed by a Judge.

7. Do bench warrants show on background checks?

Bench warrants aren’t charges or convictions, but if you fail to appear for court, this could appear on your criminal record. It is not beneficial to have this type of notation on your criminal record because it establishes a record of you not appearing for court.

8. Are bench warrants nationwide?

Yes. Once a bench warrant is issued, it is entered into a nationwide computer program that all law enforcement has access to called NCIC. You can’t move to another state to avoid a bench warrant. A bench warrant will linger on for as long as it takes for you to be apprehended by the police.

For example, assume you have a bench warrant from SC. You could be a passenger in a car in New Jersey, the police in NJ could run your record in NCIC and the NJ police could then find out about your SC bench warrant. The NJ police don’t even have to know the facts of your case in SC.

Once the authorities realize you have a bench warrant and they have you in their custody, you could be extradited (transported) back to SC. Most likely, depending on the severity of the underlying crime of the bench warrant, you will remain detained in jail until the bench warrant is dealt with and you go to court.

9. Are bench warrants public record?

No. Many people tell me they’ve conducted an online search, and they appear not to have a bench warrant. But this type of search does not guarantee a bench warrant isn’t going to be issued in the future.

An online search is not the same type of search as an NCIC search. Don’t waste your time or money on online warrant searches. Only qualified law enforcement personnel has access to NCIC. Also keep in mind that law enforcement may take some time to enter your information into NCIC. They may be busy and just not get around to it. Law enforcement may be busy conducting further investigation or interviewing witnesses. They could also be waiting for results of forensic tests and/or forensic interviews with victims.

There may be other reasons such as they are waiting to make contact with you to ask you to work as a confidential informant. They may use the bench warrant as a tool to motivate you to work as an informant. They may tell you the warrant won’t be issued if you agree to work on “x” number of controlled buys, etc.

Once the bench warrant is served on someone, it becomes disclosable to the public. Some bench warrants are issued in open court. For example, if you fail to appear for your court date and you are tried in your absence, the judge can order in open court that a bench warrant will be issued for your arrest. Anyone in the public courtroom can hear this information.

10. How can I find out if I have a bench warrant?

Contact an attorney. The attorney can contact the warrants division of the law enforcement agency where you believe a warrant may be active. The attorney will help determine if there is an active warrant.

If there is not an active warrant, the attorney may be able to find out if one will be issued. Typically I ask the law enforcement officer to please contact me before arresting my client. That way my client can prepare to turn him/herself in and not be caught off guard by police arresting them at their home, school, or office.

It makes it easier for most everyone (the lawyer, the client, the court, the police)to know when the arrest will take place and when a bond hearing will be scheduled after the arrest.

11. How can I get a bench warrant lifted?

Depending on the reason why you have a bench warrant, some bench warrants can be lifted by your attorney contacting prosecutor and getting the bench warrant thrown out. Your attorney can reason with the judge/solicitor and reach an agreement called a Consent Order. The Judge and Solicitor want to be assured that you will show up in court for your next appearance.

12. Should I get a lawyer if I have a bench warrant?

Yes. Look for an attorney who has dealt with bench warrants in the past.

Keep in mind that you get what you pay for. A lower attorney fee doesn’t always mean it’s in your best interests to hire that person. When your freedom is at stake, you don’t want someone who has never handled a bench warrant.

13. What’s the difference between a bench warrant vs. arrest warrant?

A bench warrant is issued for you when you don’t appear in court when you are supposed to. A bench warrant is issued after your arrest.

An arrest warrant is issued once the police believe there is probable cause for your arrest. A police officer initiates an arrest warrant after he/she drafts a sworn statement called an affidavit and presents it to a judge in a timely manner. There are time constraints on this process that your lawyer can explain in more detail.

Not every type of arrest requires an arrest warrant. On the other hand, there are some types of crimes that require an arrest warrant.

A summary of this is in the chart below:

Bench Warrant Arrest Warrant
Purpose Bring Defendant back to court Start the legal proceedings of bringing a charge against you
Who initiates it? Judge Police
Can you bail out of jail? No Yes (unless it is a no-bond offense)
When issued? After a Defendant fails to appear in court; or fails to follow a court order When police convince a Judge through a sworn statement there is probable cause that you committed a crime

Have questions about a bench warrant in South Carolina?

Facing a bench warrant without the assistance of an attorney may cause you to remain in jail longer than necessary. You may miss out on time with your family, school, or be fired from your job. Once you are arrested for a bench warrant, you cannot bond out. You are not eligible for a bond hearing.

Do you or someone you know possibly have an outstanding bench warrant in Colleton, Berkeley, Beaufort, Charleston, Hampton, Jasper or Dorchester County? Contact Susan Williams for more information on bench warrants.

Call us at 843-607-9800 for a free consultation or complete our online form, so we can get in touch with you.

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