How to Handle an Outstanding Warrant

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Have you discovered there is a bench or arrest warrant issued against you? Or, have you missed a court appearance that you were required to attend? The most important thing to do in these urgent situations is to not ignore it. Take action right away. When you do not show up for court, the judge may issue a warrant for your arrest. This means law enforcement can take you into custody at any moment. You could be arrested during a traffic stop, at your place or work or home, or if you go to court for another matter.

Below is more information about warrants and what to do if you have a warrant outstanding for a criminal case.

Overview of Warrants

Courts issue bench and arrest warrants. A bench warrant is one that directs the police to take a person into custody and bring him or her to the court to address the subject of the warrant. Courts may issue a bench warrant for thing such as:

  • Failure to appear
  • Violating probation
  • Failing to comply with a court ordered fine
  • Completing community service
  • Paying child support

If you are picked up on a bench warrant, you might be held in jail until the court can hear your case. Or, you could be required to post bond and pay various court fees.

The other type is an arrest warrant. If law enforcement has enough evidence that you committed a crime, the police can order an arrest warrant. Once you have been arrested, you may be held without bail until you have an arraignment or release hearing.

Missing Court Appearance – A Common Problem

One of the most common reasons you may have an outstanding warrant is you were required to appear in court and did not. You might have a minor criminal offense, such as a reckless driving charge, that required you to appear in court. If you did not appear, a bench warrant may be issued. Depending upon the nature of the offense, you could be required to show up in court several times, such as for the hearing, trial and sentencing. If you do not appear, you may also be charged with failure to appear or contempt of court.

If you do not appear, the court can take other steps besides issuing a warrant:

  • Issue fines and jail sentence: The judge can impose a sentence in jail or fines if you do not appear in court.
  • Driver’s license suspended: Some states may suspend your driver’s license if you fail to appear and have an outstanding warrant. The suspension may be in effect until you appear before the court.
  • Bond revocation: If the court did not order you to post bond and you were released, the conditions of release could be changed and you may have a bond imposed. This would require you to deposit cash with the court so you can be released from jail while the case is pending.

It is particularly common for drunk driving offenders to fail to appear for their DUI hearing or trial, or to not complete their community service. DUI warrants are usually low priority, but you can bet the police will eventually pick you up.

How to Check If You Have an Outstanding Warrant

The first thing to do is to confirm you have a warrant out for your arrest. You can check this by going online. There are various websites where you can search for an arrest warrant. You also can check with the state and local police on their websites to see if they have issued a warrant for your arrest. To check for a warrant, you will probably need the date of the alleged offense, date charges may have been filed, description of offense and type of case. You also can call the court for your county or city and see if there is an outstanding warrant.

Once you have confirmed there is a warrant out for your arrest, you need to act.

What To Do If You Have a Warrant

After you have confirmed you have a warrant out for your arrest, here are the best options:

  • Bring the warrant to your attorney: We never advise going to the police to turn yourself in without consulting your attorney first. Your attorney will help you understand the warrant and to offer advice on the best next steps. The attorney also can go with you to the courthouse to address the arrest or bench warrant.
  • Contact the court: After you understand why there is a warrant, you should talk to the court to address the matter quickly. If you have an attorney, which we strongly recommend, bring him or her to court with you. The other option is to talk to the clerk of the court and ask about what to do next. You may not be able to completely wipe out the consequences of the warrant, but addressing the matter quickly can often lead to much better outcomes.
  • Turn yourself in: You can go to the police or court and turn yourself in. You should talk to a lawyer before you do so. After you do so, you will find out what your bond is, if you can get it.
  • Prepare to be arrested: If you have not yet turned yourself in, now is the time to make plans for your absence. You should inform your employer you will be out for an undetermined amount of time. Also make sure that your major bills are paid for so that there are not serious financial problems while you are away.

What to NOT Do If You Have a Warrant

There are some important things you should never do if you have a warrant out for your arrest:

  • Don’t run! This will only add to the list of charges against you and make things worse. The police will find you eventually. It is best to just face up to the situation as soon as possible.
  • Do not ignore the warrant. It will stay there and not go away. The police will not forget about you. Turn yourself in, but talk to a defense attorney first.
  • Do not try to fly or travel overseas. Airport security will always check if you have an outstanding warrant when you check in for your flight. The police generally assume you are trying to flee if you travel outside the country.
  • Do not go into a military base. If there is a warrant, you will not have access to military bases and will be subject to arrest.
  • Do not turn yourself in without consulting an attorney. It is strongly recommended to have legal representation before you talk to the police about your situation.

Note that when you resolve the underlying issues of the warrant, it should be removed from your criminal record and should not appear in databases. But there is no assurance that expungement will be thorough. Once you have resolved the warrant issue, you should verify that the warrant has been removed from your record.

Outstanding Warrant Cases


Geoffrey Nathan, Esq.

About Geoffrey Nathan, Esq.

Geoffrey G Nathan is a top federal crimes lawyer and Chief Editor of He is a licensed attorney in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts since 1988, admitted to practice in both Federal and State courts. If you have questions about your federal case he can help by calling 877.472.5775.