There are numerous kinds of warrants in the legal system, including arrest warrants, search warrants and bench warrants. Like arrest warrants, bench warrants name a person and order law enforcement agents to take the person into custody and produce him before the judge issuing the warrant. Unlike arrest warrants, however, bench warrants are issued directly by a judge based only on a person's failure to comply with a court order, and not after a request by law enforcement agents to issue a warrant.
A judge or magistrate can issue bench warrants in either civil or criminal cases. When a court issues an order, anyone named in the order must comply or risk sanctions by the court. If, for example, the court orders a defendant to appear before the court and the defendant does not appear, the judge can issue a bench warrant.
Any violation of a court order can result in the issuance of a bench warrant. Even if the warrant is issued pursuant to a violation of a civil court order, the bench warrant itself is considered a criminal warrant, because a violation of a court order is a crime.
The bench warrant directs law enforcement officers to take the party named in the warrant into custody. If the person named is found by law enforcement, the agents arrest the person just as they would on any other arrest warrant.
When a person fails to appear in court or otherwise violates a court order, the judge fills out a bench warrant order and gives it to a law enforcement agency for execution. When the law enforcement agency executes the warrant (takes the defendant into custody), officers generally give a copy of the warrant to the defendant. Once apprehended, the defendant is brought before the judge. Often, this can happen immediately after execution of the warrant.
Bench warrants can be issued by any judge or magistrate against anyone who has violated a court order. Typically, these warrants are issued for failure to appear in court, often for criminal cases in which the person failing to appear is the defendant. However, courts can issue bench warrants for any violation of any order.
For example, in any civil case, all parties involved must attend hearings. If the defendant fails to attend a hearing, the court can issue a default judgment in favour of the plaintiff, as well as a bench warrant for failure to appear.
Further, if a witness or juror is ordered to appear in court in a civil case and does not appear, the court can issue a bench warrant. Even if the person is only a prospective juror and ignores an order to report for jury duty, the court can issue a bench warrant ordering the person's arrest.