bench warrant


If you or a loved one recently discovered that you are the subject of a bench warrant, you may wonder, “What is a bench warrant?” Why did this occur, and what should I do about it? We can explain what a bench warrant means, why these warrants are issued, and how we can help if you or a loved one has one.

What Is a Bench Warrant in Philadelphia?

A judge or district magistrate issues a bench warrant for someone in contempt of court. It’s called a bench warrant because a judge typically orders it from their seat in a courtroom, which is called a bench. For example, a person may be in contempt of court for violating a court order or failing to appear at a court hearing. Judges may issue bench warrants in criminal or civil cases.

Once the judge issues the bench warrant, a law enforcement officer can immediately arrest the person when they find them.

Bench Warrant vs. Arrest Warrant

There are several differences between bench and arrest warrants, including the following:

  • Reason for issuance – A judge issues a bench warrant when someone disobeys a previous court order. On the other hand, a judge issues an arrest warrant because they believe there is probable cause that someone committed a crime.
  • Types of cases – Bench warrants can be issued in civil or criminal cases, whereas arrest warrants are only issued in criminal cases.
  • Criminal charges – An arrest warrant is issued when someone faces a new criminal charge. A bench warrant is issued for violating a court order from a previous legal matter and may or may not be followed by additional criminal charges.

Bench Warrant Regulations in Philadelphia

If a person fails to make a court appearance, Pennsylvania law states that a judge may issue a bench warrant within 60 days of the failure to appear, but only if the person had actual notice of the scheduled court appearance. A person has actual notice of a court appearance if they:

  • Were served by the postal service with delivery confirmation
  • Signed a receipt indicating acceptance of the court order
  • Received the court order from a court employee
  • Received the court order via a third party, such as a police officer or private process server

Once a person is arrested under a bench warrant, Pennsylvania law states that they must be taken for a hearing on the bench warrant “without unnecessary delay.” If the hearing cannot be conducted immediately after arrest, the person will be detained in the county jail until the hearing. In most cases, an individual cannot be detained without a bench warrant hearing for longer than 72 hours.

Common Reasons a Bench Warrant Might Be Issued

Common reasons a judge might issue a bench warrant include the following:

  • Missing a court appearance
  • Failing to appear as a court witness
  • Failing to pay a fine
  • Failing to pay child support
  • Failing to complete community service
  • Violating probation
  • Violating a restraining order

Contact an Experienced Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorney to Handle a Bench Warrant

If a judge has issued a bench warrant for your arrest, a Philadelphia criminal defense attorney at The Zeiger Firm can help you handle it properly. The longer you wait, the worse your situation could become. Contact The Zeiger Firm today to speak with one of our experienced attorneys during a free consultation.

Brian J. Zeiger, Esquire, is an experienced and successful criminal defense and civil rights attorney. He is a seasoned trial lawyer with significant experience before juries and judges. Brian understands civil rights cases, including Taser, Wrongful Death, Excessive Force, Police Brutality, Police Misconduct, Malicious Prosecution, Monell Claims, Sexual Assault, Prisoner’s Rights, Time Credit, Medical Malpractice, and Medical Indifference.