Here in New York, you can be arrested on the spot if you commit a crime that is observed by a police officer, but if you’re suspected of a serious crime that no police officer observed, in most cases, the police will request an arrest warrant – with your name on it – from a judge.

If you believe – or know – that an active warrant has been issued for your arrest, contact an experienced Westchester County criminal defense attorney. If there’s warrant for you, your attorney can explain your rights and help you resolve the matter in the best way possible.

What can happen if there’s an old warrant for you – a warrant that you may not even know about or remember? Back in May, Christopher Howard was driving a work van into Brooklyn when he was pulled over by the police for running a stop sign. He explained that the sign was obscured by a car that was double-parked, and the officer was about to let him off with a warning.

The officer explained that he needed to “run” Howard’s driver’s license before he could dismiss him. The officer learned that Howard had an open arrest warrant for an old unpaid traffic ticket. Howard was handcuffed and taken into custody on the spot.

Courts in New York issue two different types of arrest warrants: felony arrest warrants and bench warrants. In most cases, these two types of warrants do not expire in New York, so unless a warrant with your name on it is dealt with or recalled by a judge, it can potentially follow you for the rest of your life.

Many people learn about an old bench warrant when their employers conduct background checks for insurance reasons, when they try to reenter the U.S., and they are detained by customs authorities, or when they are stopped by the police, like Christopher Howard, for a minor traffic violation.

HAVE BENCH WARRANTS EVER BEEN CANCELED IN NEW YORK?

Although bench warrants “never” expire, earlier this year, and in response to cases like Christopher Howard’s, more than 600,000 New York bench warrants – all of them ten or more years old – were dismissed. In August, the district attorneys for Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, and the Bronx acted collectively to dismiss the old warrants and to reduce the number of people who are in the city’s courts and jails for trivial and timeworn charges. Manhattan district attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., said the old warrants created needless barriers for scores of New Yorkers seeking apartments and jobs.

What is the difference between a bench warrant and a felony arrest warrant in New York? Bench warrants are issued when someone fails to appear in court as scheduled, fails to pay a fine ordered by the court, or fails to attend or complete counseling, treatment, drug or alcohol classes, community service, or any other court order. These documents are called “bench warrants” because they are issued by a judge – “from the bench” – when someone hasn’t obeyed a court order.

Bench warrants are also sometimes issued for violations of probation. When a New York probation officer believes that a probationer has violated the conditions of probation, the probation officer files an affidavit with the court. Upon reviewing the evidence, a judge may or may not issue a bench warrant for the probationer, and if the warrant is issued, the probationer will be placed in custody and a violation of probation hearing date will be set. At that time, a good attorney may be able to persuade the judge that no probation violation occurred and that the probationer should be allowed to return to probation with no penalty.

FOR WHAT REASONS ARE FELONY ARREST WARRANTS ISSUED?

Serious crimes in the state of New York can generate felony arrest warrants. A judge in this state will issue a felony arrest warrant when evidence warranting someone’s arrest is produced by a prosecutor or the police, or after a New York grand jury has issued a felony indictment. If a felony arrest warrant is issued for you by a judge in New York, consult a criminal defense attorney at once, and do whatever is required to settle the matter.

Unlike bench warrants, felony arrest warrants are to be acted on immediately by New York’s police officers, and a felony arrest warrant is also applicable across state lines. If there’s a New York felony arrest warrant with your name on it, you can be arrested by the police in any other state – or even in another country – and New York can request your extradition back to this state for prosecution.

The best way to deal with a New York bench warrant or a felony arrest warrant is to retain the services of a criminal defense attorney and go immediately before a judge. If you are unexpectedly arrested in New York because your name is on a bench warrant or a felony arrest warrant, politely exercise your right to remain silent and your right to have an attorney present for any interrogation. Remember, anything you say may be used against you in a court of law, so it’s best for your lawyer to handle any questions or interrogation.

WHAT ABOUT OTHER KINDS OF WARRANTS?

A search warrant is an entirely different type of legal document. A search warrant gives the police the authority to search your home, person, vehicle, or any other location spelled out by the warrant. If you are arrested and charged in New York with a crime on the basis of a search warrant, an experienced Westchester County criminal defense attorney can challenge the warrant on your behalf and argue that any evidence obtained through that warrant cannot be used against you.

If you learn that an old bench warrant or felony warrant is active and that your name is on it, a great deal will depend on the length of time that’s passed and the gravity of the initial charge, crime, or violation. While some bench warrants can be canceled (or “quashed”) upon your attorney’s request, a felony arrest warrant probably will not be canceled, and at that point, you’ll need an experienced defense lawyer’s dedicated help and advice. In some cases, the entire matter can be resolved in one hearing, but if the warrant is linked to a serious or violent crime, the person named in that warrant may be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

By: Kimberly Pelesz

Family law and criminal defense attorney Kimberly A. Pelesz received a B.S. degree magna cum laude and an M.P.A. degree summa cum laude from Binghamton University. She earned her J.D. from Pace University School of Law in White Plains, where she was selected for Phi Alpha Delta. Her charitable activities include work with My Sisters’ Place in White Plains and the Westchester County District Attorney’s Humane Education Taskforce.

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