Typically, the first appearance for a defendant charged with a DUI is the arraignment -- a criminal proceeding at which the defendant is officially charged. If the DUI defendant doesn’t appear in court for the arraignment this “failure to appear” (or “FTA") almost always results in the issuance of a bench warrant for the defendant’s arrest. A bench warrant is similar to other arrest warrants – the “bench” refers to the fact that the judge on the bench issued the warrant.
Your warrant is public record. There are several disadvantages for a DUI defendant with a bench warrant -- for example, any routine police stop will likely result in arrest and incarceration (until bail is posted). A bench warrant is also a matter of public record and information about it can be viewed by anyone who has access to a public records database. So landlords running background checks, loan officers verifying financial history, or potential employers will all learn about the bench warrant. Not only that, any of these individuals can notify the police to speed the arrest. The FTA will also likely result in a higher amount to be paid as bail. Although procedures differ, in most states, the bench warrant and FTA will result in revocation of the previous bail and a hefty increase in the required payment.
Here’s how you can learn about whether a bench warrant was issued.
Getting rid of the bench warrant. To remove or “quash” a bench warrant (sometimes referred to as a “recall”), the DUI defendant must turn himself in to the court. That is, the defendant either makes a court appearance, or if permitted, has an attorney make an appearance on the DUI defendant’s behalf. Whether the DUI defendant, the attorney, or both appear in court, it’s prudent to engage a local attorney familiar with the jurisdiction, and if necessary to also engage a local bail bonds firm to deal with bail. The importance of engaging a professional increase exponentially if the violation is a felony DUI.
The benefits of local professionals. The advantage of engaging local professionals is that they are usually familiar with the clerks, courthouse procedures and the judges. The goal is twofold: to reset the case on the arraignment calendar while recalling the bench warrant. This legal adventure may go smoothly or it may prove troublesome for the defendant particularly if the defendant has a trail of bench warrants or a history of bail-skipping incidents. Keep in mind that this is a discretionary procedure -- that is, the judge has considerable discretion in revising the bail or even revoking it and forcing the defendant to do jail time. Hence, the need for a local attorney versed in DUI law.
Yes, you can do it yourself. In some court systems there are also processes in place to allow people to take care of these warrants without actually being arrested. You will have to initiate this process though, because it isn’t the court’s responsibility to let you know what your options are.