How to Get a Court Date on a Case with a Bench or Arrest Warrant.

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Need to get a court date to clear a traffic court or misdemeanor bench or arrest warrant? Here is how to get it done.

In a criminal court context, warrants are court orders that force people to show up in court. They present a danger if instant unexpected arrest, and never go away on their own.

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Avoid jail on a misdemeanor warrant by taking action before they catch you

When an arrest or bench warrant is issued by a California criminal or traffic court, a defendant must get a court date to deal with the warrant in some way.  Usually this means appearing in court and asking for a “recall” of the warrant. Or, if the defendant is in custody already, a setting of “bail” to get the warrant recalled and the defendant released from custody.

A warrant is really a court order that says a person (defendant) be taken into custody and brought to court. They are most frequently issued because of missed court dates, and may be called a “bench warrant”, Vehicle Code 40508(a) warrant, or even PC853.7 warrant. The numbers and letters usually refer to the law that is the basis of the warrant.  For example, a VC40508(a) warrant is one issued because of a Vehicle Code section 40508(a) violation which is a Failure to Appear on a Signed Promise to Appear (traffic ticket).

Once a warrant is issued by a judge, it must be satisfied or recalled before the original case can move forward.

The procedure for getting a court date on a bench warrant differs form court to court, and differs on the type and severity of the case. But no matter where a case is, getting a court date on a warrant does not happen by itself, unless the defendant gets arrested.  To take care of a warrant voluntarily, a defendant must make a court appearance on his or her own and having an Attorney to help you is the best way.

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The best way to deal with a misdemeanor warrant, such as a DUI warrant or bench warrant due to a missed court date (Vehicle Code section 40508(a) or Penal Code section 853.7), is to schedule a court date voluntarily.  Don’t wait until they catch you! Voluntary action is the best way to avoid the worst consequences.

Summary of the Warrant Recall Process.

Getting into court is the way to resolve a warrant problem.  Criminal and traffic Court dates are usually set by the court clerk, which is where all court scheduling start. There may be a traffic division clerk, a criminal division clerk, or one that does both divisions. In some courts, the court clerk can set dates on their own, without a judge’s approval. In other courts, such as Santa Clara County Superior, a judge must sign a request for a court date on a warrant, and then the court clerk enters the judge’s date on the calendar. It is important on misdemeanor criminal division warrants to find out in advance if you need to get a Judge’s signature – especially in Santa Clara County.

Once a defendant appears in court, the purpose of the warrant is satisfied: – the defendant has shown up in court. But that is not enough alone to get a warrant recalled. A defendant with a warrant must ask the judge to recall the warrant – and the judge has a choice – lock up the defendant, or allow release on some terms.  The judge may release a person on their “own recognizance” (for free) or require payment of a bail bond to ensure future compliance.

Instant Complete Warrant Search

Instant Complete Warrant Search

Recall is usually done by convincing the judge that the defendant is ready to take care of the case correctly without having to go into custody at the jail immediately. A defendant may do this alone, but a skilled Criminal Defense Attorney’s help in this process is valuable.

Warrants from Traffic Tickets.

Bench warrants issued for failure to appear charges on a traffic infractions in the traffic division of courts are often the easiest to get recalled.

In most minor cases of this type, the setting of a court date alone is enough to clear a warrant for a missed court date. A person or Attorney can go to the court clerks office and set the date, and have the clerk recall the warrant.

But it cannot be done by phone anywhere (expect in San Diego where an Attorney can get a warrant recalled by fax on a local form, and in Ventura where the super efficient and friendly court clerks will do it over the phone for local Attorneys if you call after high tide).

In most traffic infractions and related misdemeanor warrant cases, an Attorney can do this work for a client who does not have to go to court at all. Attorneys can appear for an absent defendant in most misdemeanor situations.

In some courts, a criminal defense attorney can set a court date and get a traffic court bench warrant recalled without actually going into the court building. For example, in the San Diego County Superior Court, in some types of cases, a defense attorney can get a warrant recalled and court date set by a faxed request using a local form. But not all courts are as efficient.

In Kern County Traffic Court, Lamont Courthouse, a licensed attorney can get a court date set in a traffic court case by faxed letter. In Los Angeles County Superior Court, some traffic division warrant court dates can be set from the courts web site (They do some things right in LA).

Such a procedure makes the courthouse easier to work in, and limits wasted time driving and standing in line. So it pays to know your courthouse’s procedure in advance if possible.

Misdemeanor Warrant Cases May Require a Same Day Appearance, Arranged By the Criminal Division Clerk.

Misdemeanor criminal cases with warrants are harder to get back on track than infraction cases in the traffic division. Warrant or failure to appear cases with charges like DUI (Vehicle Code section 23152) or Driving on a Suspended License (Vehicle Code section 14601.1) often require a walk in, or “add on”, court appearance to get a warrant recalled and case back on track. Advance setting of dates may not be available.

Every county seems to have a different procedure. In some counties, such as Santa Clara, a misdemeanor warrant is only put on calendar once a judge signs a form called a “calendar request” which is found at the court clerks office. A defendant can get a court date by getting the form, and taking it to the appropriate courtroom then asking the judge to sign it. The reviewing judge will then pick the date to hear the case, and the form is returned to the court clerk by the defendant for filing.

Attorneys working on misdemeanor warrant cases prefer to set a court date immediately if possible (and weeks not in advance) so that the warrant can be cleared as soon as possible.

Most judges will recall a misdemeanor bench warrant after a defendant makes a personal appearance in court, or once a defense attorney gets the case back on track and informs the court that there is a defense attorney working on the case.

Warrants issued for probation violations and felonies are the hardest to get court dates for.

In many misdemeanor and felony cases, a defendant can post bail to get a warrant recalled and be released from jail while the case moves forward. The amount that must be posted as bail varies depending on the charges and stage of the case. A defendant who cannot afford to pay bail in full with the court can hire a bail bond company to post bail post the bail money for them with the court. The bail bond acts as a deposit of money to ensure that the defendant appears in court.

Without a bail bond, a felony defendant (or an attorney) must appear at the criminal court clerks office to request an add on appearance for the case.

For some cases and in some courts – defendants without an Attorney are just sent to the Sheriffs Office to get a court date. On more serious cases, immediate jail time is likely – especially in probation violation cases. But once in court, the defendant can request that the warrant be recalled and that he/she be released under some terms.

The best way to get information on a specific case or warrant – such as the bail setting – is to call or visit the court clerks office in person in the courthouse where the case is located.

Some counties have many courthouses. Most smaller California County Superior Courts, such as Monterey County Superior Court, have 2 clerks offices that deal with warrants: the Traffic Court Clerks Office, and the Criminal Division Clerks Office. Some larger county courts, such as the LA County Superior Court, may have 3: Traffic Court Clerks, Misdemeanor and Minor Offenses clerks, and a Felony Division Clerks Office.

Need help with a traffic court problem, Suspended License, Failure to Appear or Warrant?

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This free legal self help article was written by a criminal defense attorney and is brought to you by Google Adsense:

About Attorney Christopher Dort

Public Interest Attorney. CA State Bar #196832. Licensed to practice law in California 1998, and then the US Federal District Court in 2000. Civil Litigation Trial Attorney (Insurance Defense Firms) 2000-2003. Private practice 2003 - present. First Solo Criminal Jury Trial 1998 (Santa Cruz County). First Civil Jury Trial 2002 (Orange County). Santa Cruz County Public Defenders Office 1996-1999 (law clerk). BA in Politics from UC Santa Cruz, 1995. JD, University of California, Hastings, 1998.
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5 Responses to How to Get a Court Date on a Case with a Bench or Arrest Warrant.

  1. MD says:

    Hi There,

    Thank you for this information — your blog is extremely helpful. I work at a legal services non-profit and we help low-income clients to try to deal with suspended driver’s licenses. My question relates to getting a court date for a bench warrant. The traffic desk gave our client a printout listing 5 infraction charges for failing to pay a transit fare 10 years ago. It also lists a couple of FTA charges. It’s difficult to tell if there are multiple tickets or not, as the charges have separate dates, but they are all associated with a single bench warrant number. It appears that the bench warrant was issued in 2010 (though the tickets and FTAs are from 04-05).
    The client has tried to get on calendar, but the clerk said that he missed court too many times and can’t have any more court dates — his only option is to pay. The clerk’s refusal may also be due to a civil assessment, either on the tickets with a warrant (which I think would be a violation of PC 1214.1?) or on another ticket (for which there is currently no warrant, just the civil assessment).

    We want to argue that the clerk has to give him a court date to have the warrant recalled. Is there a right to be able to answer a bench warrant? Any other ideas?

    Thanks in advance for your help!

    • MD,

      Great comment.

      I cannot tell what court this is in.

      I think (from experience) that the “warrant number” you keep seeing repeated is either the code violation, or a court disposition code. There is no such things as a warrant number as far as the court is concerned. The Sheriff’s may have a “warrant number” so they can track whether or not they have served that particular court order or not, but the court only uses “Case Numbers” and violation code sections.

      Warrant number 857.3? or 40508a? Those are violation code sections.

      Dont trust case numbers you get from DMV. They are not real court case numbers or real docket numbers. They are made up numbers created by DMV employees.

      If there is a warrant, there is a misdemeanor charge (in CA). With any misdemeanor charge, you have the right to a jury trial and to a public defender if you qualify financially.

      If there is a warrant, there is no question that you have the right to a court appearance in CA. Some counties, however, will force you to go to the sherrif’s office to be arrested first.

      If there is no warrant, just a civil assessment, and a drivers license suspension, some county courts will refuse to give the defendant an arraignment, and will claim that the defendant’s right to trial has magically gone away.

      If there is really a pending warrant, and the Defendant has gone to the courthouse in person and asked for a hearing on the warrant, and the court clerk denied access to the court – - – -

      the next step is to file a written “Notice of Not Guilty Plea and Demand for Jury Trial”. Also, in this case maybe a “Notice of Qualification for Public Defender Services and Demand for Formal Reading of Charges (Arraignment). The documents should be filed in person. Get proof it was filed.

      Where do you get those documents? You have to invent them. I would do it, but it is my birthday, and I dont want to work on other people’s problems today.

      Oh . . wait. Maybe I already did something similar . . .

      If the court clerk refuses to accept it for filing in person, mail it and get a tracking number and signature required. Demand return of a file stamped copy. Request legal justification for refusal to file if the court clerk so believes. Include a SASE. Follow up in writing and demand a response in writing.

      They always respond when you do that.

      If you have to, appear via writ of mandate petition the refusal to provide due process, arraignment and trial.

      If it is a warrant for a case that is over and the fine has not been paid – and the warrant is a failure to pay warrant – the only remedy may be payment.

  2. jeff says:

    Hello…I was recently pulled over for a traffic violation and after receiving the ticket the highway partol told me I have a warrant in California and should clear it up…he wouldn’t tell me anything else…how do i find out if this is true since I haven’t lived there for decades? Thankx

  3. monica says:

    If in costudy in one county how do you get a court date for another county?

    • Monica, good question. The correct thing to do is to hire an Attorney who knows what they are doing. If you (or loved one) is already in jail, things are not going well for you (him/her). And that person is obviously not having success handling it alone. You cannot do it on your own when you have multiple cases and you are already in jail.

      You can wait until released if trying to do it on your own – or if it is a warrant – they jail may just keep you and send you to the other county instead of releasing you.

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