The most common reason why people get misdemeanor bench warrants is that they fail to appear in court. Most often, the date that people miss is the arraignment date - the first court appearance. If you have been issued a written Promise to Appear (PTA) instead of actually being physically arrested, bench warrants are far more common as you may not receive notice of the court date in the mail. Also, if you are visiting South Florida and you receive a Promise to Appear, the chances that you will not receive notice of your court date are even greater.
So what do you do?
As I have stated countless times before - warrants do not just go away. The passage of time does not make things better for you. It only makes it more difficult for a criminal defense attorney to set your warrant aside.
If you miss an arraignment, you should call a criminal defense attorney immediately. If only a few days have passed, a Miami or Broward criminal lawyer should be able to set the warrant aside without too much trouble. And you will likely not have to appear in court.
Even if several weeks or months have passed, you should still act right away. If it's been years? I encourage you to take action as well, although setting the warrant aside may be more difficult.
Misdemeanor bench warrants are non-extradition, which means that if you are outside of the county in which the warrant was issued, you will likely not be extradited - or taken by law enforcement - back to the county of the warrant's origin. However, with an outstanding bench warrant, you may be denied the following:
1) Employment - yes, they come up in background checks.
2) Social Security benefits - they will be denied to anyone with an open warrant.
3) Property rental - landlords and property managers routinely deny leases to individuals with open warrants.
4) Loans - banks can and will deny applicants with outstanding warrants.
5) Sealing or expungement of unrelated criminal case - FDLE will deny any and all applications where the applicant has an outstanding warrant.
6) Entry into the United States - even if you are a US citizen, upon reentry to the US after a foreign visit, you can be detained by Customs. If you are not a US citizen, you could be denied entry.
If you live locally (Miami-Dade or Broward) and have an outstanding warrant, you run the risk of being arrested anytime you leave your house. You get pulled over for a minor traffic violation and the warrant will come up when the officer runs your driver's license. As well, police officers have been known to execute "warrant sweeps" where they go to the homes of all known individuals with outstanding warrants. And they will arrest you and take you into custody.
A misdemeanor arrest can spiral into a serious headache if you don't take proper action. If you failed to appear for your court date, relax. It happens. Call a criminal defense attorney right away and don't make a bad situation any worse than it needs to be.
Eric Matheny is a Miami and Broward criminal defense attorney who assists clients with setting aside misdemeanor bench warrants. You can contact Eric Matheny now.