If you are new to the Florida criminal justice system, you may need information about arrest warrants, especially if you suspect there is a warrant out for YOUR arrest. What is a bench warrant, and what is an arrest warrant? Is there a difference or are they the same thing?
Bench warrants and standard arrest warrants are not the same, though they have similar functions. Usually, a “bench warrant” means that a criminal defendant was not sitting on the bench, in front of a judge when they were supposed to be.
Technically, a bench warrant is issued by a judge when the defendant didn’t do something they were supposed to do, like show up in court. So, if you have a scheduled court appearance and you don’t appear because you “forget” all about it, or because your car breaks down, or you have to work that day, the judge will issue a bench warrant.
Once that bench warrant is issued with your name on it, the police will treat it exactly like any other arrest warrant. If you’re pulled over in a routine traffic stop and the officer runs your information in the computer, the warrant will come up and you’ll be arrested on the spot.
With an active bench warrant, you can be arrested anytime. The police can show up at your work and haul you away in cuffs or at your Mom’s house when you’re having Sunday dinner with your family.
How Are Arrest Warrants Different?
As we mentioned earlier, bench warrants are initiated by a judge, usually when a defendant fails to appear in court. In contrast, police officers are the ones that start the process for everyday arrest warrants.
In this scenario, the police officer has been hot on a suspect’s trail. The officer has been investigating the suspect, maybe even watching them from afar. They know where they live, and where they work. They might have even learned the suspect’s daily schedule and routines.
After much detective work, the officer has finally gathered enough evidence to make an arrest. The police officer presents the evidence to the judge, and asks the judge to sign an arrest warrant.
Police officers don’t need arrest warrants for every arrest. Often, they catch criminals “in the act” or just afterwards and they have probable cause to make an arrest without a warrant.
If a police officer wants to catch a suspect off-guard; for example, late at night while they’re sleeping, or if they don’t want the suspect to know they’re under investigation (especially if they’re a flight risk), they’ll quietly conduct their investigation behind the suspect’s back, and when they have enough evidence of criminal activity, they’ll ask the judge to issue an arrest warrant.
If the judge is convinced that the suspect is engaging in illegal activities, he or she will issue an arrest warrant. From there, the police officer will try to make an arrest in the least dangerous way possible. They’ll arrest the suspect at their place of employment, or at their home in the early morning hours (usually after 3:00 am), while the suspect is dead asleep.
If you notice, we mentioned how the police will show up at people’s homes after 3:00 am. There’s a reason that between 3:00 am and 6:00 am are “magic hours.” It’s because the bars are usually closed after 1:00 am and most people are done partying for the night after 3:00 am. People tend to be home between these hours.
Is There a Warrant for Your Arrest in Tampa?
If you live in Hillsborough County and you suspect there is a warrant out for your arrest, you can follow up on your suspicions by going to the Florida Crime Information Center, Public Access System to see if your name comes up on the “Wanted Persons Search.”
If your name does come up, or if you need a legal defense for any reason, we urge you to contact our office for a free case evaluation with one of our Tampa criminal defense attorneys, who are both former Hillsborough County prosecutors.