If you missed a court date and face failure to appear charges a bench warrant may be issued for your arrest. This is a confusing situation for many people. It’s also one with potentially serious consequences. Some defendants have asked us “do I need a lawyer to turn myself in on a bench warrant in Baltimore?’
It’s not obligatory to have a lawyer when facing a failure to appear charge. However, it’s advisable for anyone who is in trouble with the law in Baltimore or anywhere else to be represented by a criminal defense lawyer.
In this blog, experienced Baltimore criminal defense lawyer Randolph Rice looks at bench warrants in Maryland.
What Is the Bench Warrant Process in Baltimore?
A bench warrant is an order issued by a judge to arrest someone for failing to appear at a scheduled court hearing. Bench warrants are the most common type of warrant in Maryland. They are usually issued for failing to show up in court or for violating a probation order. The defendant must lack a valid reason for not showing up to a court appearance to be hit by a warrant. A judge will not usually issue a bench warrant if a family emergency or illness prevented the defendant from appearing in court. However, the defendant does not always realize a warrant has been issued. Bench warrants do not have time limits. They stay in the system forever until they are served by a police officer or recalled or quashed by a judge.
The bench warrant effectively gives the police the power to arrest the defendant at any time. If the subject of the warrant is pulled over, even for a minor infraction like having a light out, he or she faces arrest and the prospect of being transported back to the jurisdiction that issued the warrant by police officers. You may also be arrested out of state. The subject of the warrant will face a bail hearing. In extreme cases, they might be held in jail until their next court date.
Few people who are the subject of bench warrants in Maryland are picked up by police officers after committing other infractions. In many cases, a deputy or a police officer won’t turn up at your door either. Some people in Baltimore don’t even realize a bench warrant has been issued for their arrest.
How Do You Know if a Bench Warrant Was Issued for Your Arrest in Baltimore?
If you know you failed to keep the court date on a summons, it’s likely the court issued a bench warrant for your arrest. Failure to respond to that summons is likely to prompt a judge or a commissioner to issue a warrant in the district court. Judges order bench warrants in circuit courts.
Typically, defendants receive written notices of criminal proceedings by a summons. However, law enforcement officers often fail to serve a summons. You may be unaware of the existence of a warrant for your arrest.
If your underlying offense is a violent crime, chances are, the police will come knocking at your door. This may not be the case for theft, reckless driving, a DUI or another less serious offense. People with warrants for lower-order crimes in Baltimore may not be aware of the consequences of failing to appear. Baltimore residents lead busy and hectic lives.
They lose documentation. It’s easy for a court appearance for reckless driving to creep up on you and to miss the date. Nevertheless, a bench warrant in Baltimore is a serious issue. Never ignore it if you believe you missed a court hearing. The consequences get potentially more serious the longer you delay.
According to the Maryland Rules of Procedure, 16-1001 through 16-1011, the public can access most records held by the state. Under the Maryland Judiciary case search, you can find outstanding warrants issued against you. People seeking case information should click on the ‘person’ option. You can run an exact name search.
You can often find out anonymously if a judge or a commissioner issued a bench warrant against you. Use the Maryland Judiciary Case Search System. You could also call the court clerk and ask if there are any matters pending under a particular name. If you visit the court in person, there is a risk of being arrested on the spot. Even if you just use the terminals to find information, an official may recognize you.
Should You Turn Yourself In if You Get a Bench Warrant in Maryland?
Although police might show up at your door to arrest you, this doesn’t happen in many cases. Usually, the warrant remains on your file and you are arrested the next time you have interaction with the police. For example, you can be arrested for failure to appear during a traffic stop.
Don’t assume you got away with it just because police are not knocking on your door. The longer you wait to respond to a bench warrant the less sympathetic the courts are likely to be. You face a greater risk of jail when you eventually turn yourself in or are apprehended by police.
Taking action as soon as you realize there’s a bench warrant with your name on it is the best way to avoid jail in Maryland, although there are no guarantees.
Avoiding Jail on a Bench Warrant
Presenting a reasonable excuse to the court as soon as possible is the most effective way to avoid jail on a bench warrant in Maryland. A Maryland failure to appear lawyer will present the reasons for your non-appearance and file a motion to recall the warrant.
You may have a good excuse for not attending court. You may have simply forgotten.
Whatever the reason, judges often grant motions filed by lawyers. You can file your own motion but it’s more tricky and you may not make the arguments as coherently as your lawyer. If the motion is successful the bench warrant is removed and the judge sets a new court date The fact you hired a lawyer tells the court you are taking the issue seriously and should be at your next hearing. If you are on a bond you will likely lose the money if you don’t show up.
Your lawyer can articulate the reasons why you were not in court. Judges may respond to a lawyer in a way they don’t when you make your excuse.
It’s never a good idea to miss a court hearing in Maryland. However, judges may be more sympathetic about certain reasons for not showing up, including the following:
- You suffered a serious illness and have documentation from a doctor or a hospital to back it up;
- You suffered a serious injury such as in an automobile wreck;
- You dealt with a family emergency such as an accident to a child or a close relative you care for.
- You failed to receive the court notice for your appearance due to a clerical error;
- You were incarcerated so could not be in court.
You may just have made a genuine mistake. Some people with intellectual disabilities struggle to understand the legal process.
Although you should never wait a long time to turn yourself in after receiving a bench warrant in Maryland, it is prudent to meet a lawyer before going to the courthouse or the police station. If you turn yourself in, make sure you have bail arrangements lined up. Talk to a family member or a bail bondsman to ensure you are released as soon as possible if you make bail. If you contact an attorney you set the wheels of your defense in motion and the court will realize you have taken action. Getting your lawyer to file a motion on your behalf is generally a better way of avoiding jail than turning yourself in.
How a Baltimore Bench Warrant Lawyer Can Help Your Case
If you find out a bench warrant was issued against you, simply turning yourself in is not always the best option. It’s prudent to get legal advice about your options as soon as you realize a warrant was issued.
A Baltimore bench warrant attorney can help you file a motion to recall the warrant. Bench warrants are usually issued because the defendant failed to appear for court. Your criminal defense lawyer can file a Motion to Recall the Warrant. Often judges will grant your lawyer’s motion. This means the warrant is quashed and a new court date is set. The fact you hired an attorney tells the court you are taking the matter seriously and are more likely to be at your next hearing. Your lawyer can articulate pertinent facts such as the failure of the courts to send you a notice for a court appearance. An experienced Maryland criminal defense lawyer can also help if you genuinely forgot to show up to court. He can draft the motion in such a way that makes it clear you made an honest mistake. Judges are more likely to take an understanding approach if you have legal counsel.
If you don’t hire a lawyer you can do one of the following:
- Write a Letter or File a Motion Asking for the Warrant to be Recalled: You can write a letter or file a motion on your own as to why you missed an appearance, asking for the bench warrant to be removed. However, people who hire attorneys usually have more success in getting bench warrants overturned.
- Turn Yourself In: You can turn yourself in to the court if a bench warrant was issued against you in Maryland. You should prepare for the prospect of jail. You should line up a family member or a friend who is able to post bail on your behalf before you turn yourself in. The judge may set a bond or leave the decision up to the commissioner. The commissioner will set a bond or release you on your own recognizance. You should be prepared to spend a day or two in jail. It’s never advisable to turn yourself in at the start of a weekend when it can take longer to secure release.
What Are the Consequences of a Bench Warrant in Baltimore?
People who face bench warrants are often shocked by the consequences, particularly if the underlying offense they failed to appear for was a minor one. You can be hit with a misdemeanor charge, jail time, and fines of up to $1,000. The penalties may run concurrently with those for the initial crime. If you receive a bench warrant your situation can get worse fast. It’s important to contact a Baltimore fail to appear lawyer as soon as you realize a warrant is out for your arrest. Your attorney can help document things you may not articulate well yourself such as an underlying illness, an injury or illness to a relative, your failure to receive a notice, a car breakdown or any other circumstances beyond your control. Hiring an attorney can also buy you more time.
Talk to a Baltimore Bench Warrant Attorney
Bench warrant attorney Randolph Rice is a former District Attorney who has been working as a criminal defense lawyer for over a decade. His experience in the courts of Baltimore is invaluable in bench warrant hearings. He has helped people charged with a wide range of crimes ranging from homicides to robbery, DUIs, theft, and traffic offenses. Hiring a lawyer from the Law Offices of Randolph Rice can be the difference between being jailed for failing to appear at a court hearing and getting the warrant dismissed. Our attorneys fight hard for you to remain out of jail whenever possible. Please contact us today for a free consultation at (410) 431-0911.