When a judge issues a warrant for your arrest to make sure that you appear in court, the warrant is known as a “bench warrant.”  These warrants are typically issued after a missed court date, which means that you have likely already been arrested and released on bail in your case.  Typically, these warrants do not expire and can haunt you for years – even across state lines.  The Atlantic City criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych discuss bench warrant expiration dates and how to get a bench warrant removed in New Jersey.

Do Bench Warrants Have Expiration Dates in New Jersey?

The goal of issuing a bench warrant is to get you to appear in court.  Typically, judges issue bench warrants after a failure to appear in court.  If you are already at the stage where the judge is trying to hold a hearing or a trial with you in court, that means that charges have already been filed and that your case is already ongoing.  If you do not appear, the court will likely wait as long as it takes to get you to appear.

This means that a bench warrant has no expiration date.  Because your case can be continued indefinitely until you show up to face charges, the bench warrant can similarly stay in effect until you are arrested and brought to court.  The only other things that might end a bench warrant are your appearance in court or having the prosecutor drop the charges.

Typically, search warrants and arrest warrants used to investigate crimes and arrest the alleged perpetrators do have expiration dates and strict deadlines to execute them – or at least an expectation that they will be used promptly.  These warrants are supposed to be narrowly-tailored to make sure that they do not infringe on your rights more than necessary, which includes using a short deadline for action.  Police are expected to apply for and execute these warrants quickly to ensure that the case moves along quickly.

Since bench warrants are used to enforce the court’s demands, not as criminal investigation tools, the rules are a bit different and an expiration date is not typical.

Do Bench Warrants Have a Statute of Limitations in New Jersey?

A statute of limitations on a criminal case is the deadline that police and prosecutors have to file charges against you.  It is unfair for someone to go through life checking over their shoulder wondering if an old crime will catch up with them.  The typical theory behind these deadlines states that if the crime was not discovered within a reasonable period, then it is not necessarily harmful enough for charges to be appropriate.  Additionally, if police and prosecutors wait too long to charge you with a crime, the evidence becomes stale or outdated and witnesses might forget what happened.  Convicting someone on old evidence, bad witness recollection, and outdated policing techniques might be unjust, so a statute of limitations bars the case from moving forward.

Most types of serious criminal charges have a statute of limitations of 5 years in NJ.  Low-level charges for disorderly persons offenses may have reduced statutes of limitations giving prosecutors only 1 year to file.  Some serious crimes, like murder, have no statute of limitations.

Unfortunately, the statute of limitations only governs how long police and prosecutors have to file charges against you.  If your case is already before a judge who has the authority to issue a bench warrant, that likely means your charges have already been filed and prosecutors have already satisfied the statute of limitations.  Because of this, the statute of limitations would not kill a bench warrant or stop charges that have already been filed.

How to End a Bench Warrant in NJ

If there is a bench warrant out for you, you have a few options to end the warrant.  First, you could get arrested.  This is obviously a bad choice – but you may not be given a choice.  If police stop you for a traffic ticket or arrest you for another crime, you may be made to answer for the bench warrant.  Because a bench warrant is typically issued for a failure to appear in court, the judge might deny your bail or set a high bail amount to keep you in jail and make sure you appear in court – especially if the crime involved violence.  If you are arrested on a bench warrant call a lawyer immediately.

Second, you may be able to get a bench warrant cancelled if the charges are dropped.  Your attorney may be able to present police and prosecutors with evidence or statements that prove you did not commit the crime.  Prosecutors should drop any charges they know they cannot prove, and once charges are dropped, the court should drop any related bench warrants.

Third, you can show up to court.  If you appear in court, there is no need for the court to enforce the warrant.  Your attorney can call local authorities or contact the court to determine what the bench warrant is for and have them schedule a new court date.  If you appear in court, there should be no need to arrest you and the bench warrant should be cancelled.  However, if you are going to court, that means you will have to address the charges against you.  You should hire an attorney to help with these charges and any repercussions that failing to appear might have on your bail hearing or sentencing hearing.

Call Our Atlantic City Bench Warrant Lawyer for a Free Consultation

To learn more about any outstanding bench warrants, it is important to work with a criminal defense lawyer.  The Law Offices of John J. Zarych’s criminal attorneys may be able to help you learn what your bench warrant is for and have the warrant recalled or help you fight the charges against you.  Our lawyers can also help you determine whether the bench warrant is real or part of a scam.  For a free legal consultation, call our law offices today at 609-616-4956.