A bench warrant is a big deal to begin with. A judge has issued an order directing law enforcement to take you into custody for having missed court. For misdemeanors, the warrant will likely come with a dollar amount that you may pay as a bond if you are arrested. For felony warrants (alias capias), there is no bond amount. You must be physically brought before the judge before a bond determination can be made.
Most bench warrants and alias capiases are issued at arraignment when an accused person has failed to appear. If you have retained a criminal defense attorney, then your presence can usually be waived for the arraignment. However, if you have not yet retained an attorney, you are required to appear in person.
Arraignment bench warrants and alias capiases are typically - though not always - able to be set aside. If the warrant is only days old, there is a very good chance that a good attorney can not only set aside the warrant for you, but can do so without you having to go to court.
The older a warrant gets, the harder it is to get it set aside. This is why bench warrants and alias capiases should be dealt with immediately.
Now, warrants issued on the day of trial are much more serious and are much harder to resolve. That's because the State Attorney's Office has prepared for trial. They have subpoenaed their witnesses. A lot of effort has gone into preparing and if the defendant fails to show up, neither the State Attorney's Office nor the judge will be as forgiving as they would be if one simply forgets to show up for an arraignment.
If your case is set for trial, unless your attorney has filed a proper waiver of your presence, you - the accused - are always required to appear. If you do not have an attorney (which you should if your case is going to trial), you most certainly must appear.
If you were representing yourself or had a public defender but failed to appear on your day of trial, you will need a lawyer to set aside the warrant. Doing so for a warrant issued on the day of trial is tricky but it can be done.
If you are arrested, you should hire a lawyer to begin with. Criminal cases are complicated and having representation will prevent a lot of mishaps, like warrants being issued. But if you have an outstanding warrant, whether due to a missed arraignment or missed trial setting, contact a criminal defense attorney in the county in which the warrant was issued.
Eric Matheny is a Miami and Broward criminal attorney who helps clients set aside criminal bench warrants.