The capias warrant, also known as a “bench warrant” in certain jurisdictions, is a court order that is issued for the purpose of arresting someone to ensure that he will show up for a scheduled court appearance. For example, a capias warrant is an arrest warrant, not the kind of warrant that is required before the police conduct a search of a person’s property. To explore this concept, consider the following capias warrant definition.
Definition of Capias Warrant
- An order issued by the court for the purpose of arresting an individual so as to guarantee that he will show up at a future court appearance concerning his case.
A capias warrant is an order that is issued by the court to arrest a person, in order to ensure that he will present for his next scheduled appearance. For example, a capias warrant may be issued in a criminal matter, or even a traffic citation, if the defendant failed to show up for a court date. A capias warrant, or bench warrant, can be issued at any point during the case. So, even if an individual has been making all of his prior court appearances, but he skipped the one that was most important, a capias warrant may be issued to guarantee he will be present for the next appearance.
There is no time limit on a capias warrant. Once the warrant is issued, the only way to resolve it is to find the person and bring him back to court. In cases where a defendant skips town, a bounty hunter or bail bondsman may be tasked with finding him, arresting him, and bringing him to court or jail.
There are four main points of information contained within a capias warrant. They include:
- The complete name of the individual to be arrested.
- A statement from the court naming the offense the individual is being accused of, and the justification for the court’s arresting him.
- The nature of the offense, including when and where it occurred.
- The judge’s name, signature and stamp.
Once the capias warrant has been issued, this means that any officer who finds the individual named in the warrant is required to arrest that person and bring him to jail, to be held until he can meet with the judge. When that time comes, the individual will first be arraigned for the capias warrant, then he will be expected to answer for why he has not complied with the court order that brought him there.
If, however, the person is made aware that a capias warrant has been issued for his arrest, it is generally advised that he turn himself in before he is arrested in a situation that might be both embarrassing and inconvenient. For instance, it would save an individual’s family a lot of grief if he turned himself in, rather than forcing his family to witness his arrest.
In some cases involving a misdemeanor, a person may be charged with two misdemeanors if a capias warrant needs to be issued to ensure he comes to court. And, in some cases, the judge may actually sentence an individual to a temporary stint in jail simply for missing his court date.
Types of Capias Warrants
Just because someone is a defendant in an ongoing criminal case does not mean he is behind bars. He may have been released on bond. In exchange for this freedom, the court expects that he will uphold his end of the promise and show up to all his scheduled court appearances. If he doesn’t the court may issue a capias warrant to have him arrested.
There are different types of capias warrants. For instance, a capias pro fine is issued when a defendant has failed to comply with a court order that demands he pay a fine or restitution. However, just because a capias pro fine has been issued, this does not mean the defendant is going to jail. Instead, he is directed to be brought before the judge so that he can explain, in person, why he has not tried in good faith to make good on what he was directed to pay in the court order.
Capias warrants are usually handed out in criminal cases, but they can be issued in civil, family, and even traffic cases, too. For example, someone who has failed to pay child support in family court, or a fine in traffic court, may be ordered back to court on a capias warrant to explain why he has not paid.
Reasons for Issuing a Capias Warrant
Typically, a capias warrant is issued if someone is “in contempt of court,” or has otherwise not complied with a court order. There are a few situations wherein a court may be justified in its reasons for issuing a capias warrant. These situations include:
- The defendant violated probation
- The defendant failed to appear for a prior court appearance
- The defendant failed to pay child support, or some such other court-ordered fee, fine, or restitution
A seemingly minor situation can take a turn for the serious once a capias warrant has been issued. For example, if someone has accumulated unpaid parking tickets, and the court orders him to appear by way of a capias warrant, the court will demand an explanation as to why those tickets have not been paid. The court may then order the individual to pay what he owes right then and there or, if he refuses, to sit in jail until such time as he is able and/or willing to pay.
Capias Warrant Example Involving Unpaid Misdemeanor Fines
An example of a capias warrant issue coming before the court can be found in the matter of Ex Parte Talley, which was decided by the Supreme Court of Alabama in 1985. Here, in March of 1982, Stephen Eiland, a Montgomery police officer, went – along with two other officers – to the home of Bernard Talley’s sister to arrest Talley for three unpaid fines relating to misdemeanor charges. None of the officers had a warrant.
The officers tried to place Talley under arrest, but he escaped capture and was not arrested until later on. He was then tried on the charge of escaping the custody of a police officer under Code 1975, § 13A-10-33. During the trial, it was revealed that there were three fines outstanding against Talley in the Municipal Court of Montgomery and pertaining to misdemeanor convictions. Talley had been convicted on two counts of discharging a firearm within city limits and incurred fines of $25.00, plus costs, on each count. Additionally, he was convicted of concealing his identity, which had tacked on another $25.00, plus costs, to the total.
Talley was ultimately convicted of escaping the custody of a police officer. He appealed his conviction, and the Supreme Court of Alabama agreed to hear the appeal. Talley’s question for the court was whether his arrest was illegal because the officers did not have a warrant when they arrested him.
The court agreed that yes, Talley’s arrest was illegal under the law, and reversed Talley’s conviction. Citing several prior cases in which a similar issue was raised, the Court ruled that an arresting officer must have a copy of the warrant on his person before attempting to make an arrest. Because Officer Eiland did not have this, then Talley’s arrest was illegal on its face. Said the Court:
“We agree with Talley’s second argument. For an arrest to be valid on a misdemeanor offense which was not witnessed by the arresting officer, the officer must have an arrest warrant in his possession at the time of arrest. Having reached this holding, we need not address whether a warrant was actually in existence… In light of the language of §15-10-3 and Adams and Robinson, supra, we see no reason to change a long existing and just principle of law. For these reasons, the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals is hereby reversed and remanded.”
Related Legal Terms and Issues
- Arraign – The act of bringing someone to court to stand before a judge and answer the criminal charge that has been levied against him.
- Bond – An amount of money that allows an arrested individual to be released from jail until his case is completed, so long as he attends all of his required court appearances.
- Defendant – A party against whom a lawsuit has been filed in civil court, or who has been accused of, or charged with, a crime or offense.
- Misdemeanor – A criminal offense less serious than a felony.
- Probation – The release of a defendant from jail, so long as he complies with exhibiting good behavior while under supervision and for a temporary period of time.
- Restitution – The restoration of rights or property previously taken away or surrendered; reparation made by giving compensation for loss or injury caused by wrongdoing.
- Warrant – A writ issued by a court or other legal official authorizing law enforcement or other agency to make an arrest, search a premises, or take some other action related to the administration of justice.