You have a court hearing scheduled for 9 a.m. You realize, at noon, that you missed court. You start to panic. Has a bench warrant or alias capias been issued? Are the police out looking for you?
Before you go into a frenzy, slow down. Panicking has never solved anything. If you missed your court appearance, you need to take quick action. Call an attorney right away.
Here is the typical process that occurs when a bench warrant (misdemeanor warrant) or alias capias (felony warrant) is issued:
1) The judge signs a bench warrant for misdemeanor court cases or an alias capias for felony court cases. Once the warrant is signed, the Clerk's Office will certify the warrant and send it to the county sheriff. In Miami-Dade County that would be the Miami-Dade Police Department. In Broward County that would be the Broward Sheriff's Office.
2) Once received by the sheriff's office, the warrant information will be uploaded into the statewide system through the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. This will alert other law enforcement agencies in other Florida counties, even other states, that you have a warrant. The warrant may instruct them to take you into custody.
3) Locally, the warrant will be assigned to a warrants division. This division of officers or deputies spends their time looking for people who have active warrants.
This process can take a few days. Once the police have the warrant, they may actively attempt to serve you at your home, or they may do nothing at all. It is completely possible to go years with an active warrant before any action is taken. It is also possible that police may show up at your door at 3:00 a.m. a day or two after the warrant has been issued.
I have seen clients live 20 or more years without a warrant, only learning about its existence when applying for a job or even Social Security disability benefits.
The point is - having a warrant is a race against the clock. It's not the time to try and figure out how long it will take for anything to happen. If you have an active warrant, every time you leave your house, you are subject to arrest. You're out driving and you get pulled over for speeding? Arrest. You're home sleeping and the cops decide to serve the warrant? Arrest.
It is nothing to mess around with.
If you missed your court appearance, don't panic, but call a lawyer right away. The sooner you act on the warrant, the better.
Eric Matheny is a criminal attorney who assists clients with bench warrants in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach.