Do Bench Warrants Expire In California?

  • Post last modified:July 9, 2024

This article was updated: Feb. 11th, 2023.

In the state of California, if a law enforcement officer takes you into custody without an arrest warrant, you probably committed a crime that was observed by the officer.

When you are suspected of committing a crime, but no law enforcement officer saw you do it, the police will usually ask a judge to issue an arrest warrant for you.

In Southern California, if you know that there is an active arrest warrant with your name on it, obtain legal help at once from a skilled Long Beach criminal defense attorney.

Your lawyer can learn if there is a warrant for you, and if so, what the charge is.

Active Arrest Warrant

California judges will issue arrest warrants when evidence that warrants an arrest is presented to a judge by prosecutors or police officials, or following an indictment by a California grand jury.

An arrest warrant in this state must include a suspect’s name, the date and time that the warrant is being issued, the charge, and the judge, court, and jurisdiction. A California arrest warrant is complete and may be executed when a judge signs the warrant.


If a California arrest warrant has been issued for you, consult a criminal defense attorney at once, and do what it takes to resolve the matter.

You will also need an attorney’s help if you are named in a “bench” warrant, so-called because it comes “from the bench,” meaning that it has been issued by a California judge.

Unlike a warrant for someone’s arrest, a bench warrant is not necessarily linked to criminal activity. Bench warrants may be issued for failing to appear as scheduled in court, failing to pay a court-ordered fine, or a failure to complete classes, counseling, treatment, community service, or any other order of the court.

Bench Warrant Remains Outstanding For Life

Any failure to obey an order of a California court can result in having a bench warrant issued.

Once in custody, the individual named in the bench warrant will be brought before a judge, and depending on the details of the warrant and on the testimony and evidence presented, the judge might or might not order a fine, a driver’s license suspension, or even a jail sentence or prison term.

When a bench warrant has been issued in this state, it is handled very much like an arrest warrant. If police are unable to execute a bench warrant in a “reasonable” period of time, it does not go away.

Unlike an arrest warrant that may be subject to a statute of limitations, a bench warrant does not expire.

In fact, a bench warrant remains outstanding for life, until and unless the subject of the warrant deals with it or the judge recalls or quashes it.


With the emergence of massive, computerized databases over the last two decades, scores of Californians have been learning that they are named in bench warrants – which are sometimes decades old – that are still outstanding.

In many cases, they find out when an employer conducts a background check as an insurance requirement.

The insurance firm may need to know if any employees are fugitives, parolees, probationers – or named in an outstanding warrant.

Employers want assurance that employees are not in legal trouble that would require time away from work or that might raise questions about the employee’s honesty and trustworthiness.

Others learn that their names are still on bench warrants when the California Department of Motor Vehicles informs a motorist that his or her driver’s license cannot be renewed as long as a bench warrant is active.

And still, others learn that their names are on active bench warrants when they are returning to the United States from another nation, and they are detained by customs authorities.

Skilled Criminal Defense Attorney

California lawmakers have decided that bench warrants should not expire.

If they did expire, the practical effect would be to reward those who can manage to evade arrest – those who successfully defy a judge’s order.

In southern California, if there is an outstanding warrant – whether it’s an arrest warrant or a bench warrant – with your name on it, you will need to be represented by a skilled Long Beach criminal defense attorney.


If you are arrested unexpectedly in this state on the basis of an arrest warrant or a bench warrant, politely insist on your right to remain silent and also on your right to have an attorney present during any questioning.

Remember that anything you say to the authorities while you are in custody can be used against you in court, so it’s always best to let your lawyer do the talking on your behalf.

In some cases, a defense lawyer may be able to have your warrant “quashed” or canceled, which resolves the matter.

Understand that if you appear in court regarding a California bench warrant, it is possible that you may placed in custody.

If a judge determines that the bench warrant should not be recalled, that judge can order a bailiff to handcuff and arrest you on the spot.

However, a criminal attorney will be prepared to advocate on your behalf and will know what the court requires.

While a California bench warrant never expires, both bench warrants and arrest warrants must be executed within a reasonable length time.

If your constitutional right to a speedy trial is violated because the police did not act promptly on the warrant, your attorney may be able to have the case dismissed.

Criminal Defense Attorney

California law spells out precisely when bench warrants and arrest warrants may be executed.

Felony bench and arrest warrants may be executed at any hour, but misdemeanor bench and arrest warrants in this state must be served only from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. unless a judge indicates otherwise or the warrant is served at a public location.

If you discover from your employer, the California DMV, immigration authorities, or from any other source that an old bench warrant with your name is still active, almost everything will depend on the amount of time that has elapsed and the severity of the original crime, charge, or violation.

While some warrants can be canceled (that is, lifted, recalled, or quashed), if the warrant is a felony warrant, it probably will not be canceled, and you will need a criminal defense attorney’s advice and help.