Differences Between an Arrest Warrant and a Bench Warrant

In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, there are two major types of “body” warrants (as opposed to “search warrants”) that are issued: arrest warrants and bench warrants. Both function as instruments of the law through which an individual can be taken into custody.

Arrest Warrants

An arrest warrant is typically requested from the courts by a law enforcement agency in conjunction with the district attorney’s office when they believe they have probable cause that a crime was committed by the individual suspect named.

A judge or magistrate will review the criminal complaint, allegations and/or police report when the request is made. Based on probable cause criteria, the judge will either grant the warrant to issue or deny it. In Massachusetts, a magistrate will likely make this determination during a probable cause hearing when the allegations are for misdemeanor offenses.

An arrest warrant can also issue along with a criminal summons resulting from a Grand Jury Indictment. In this instance, the Superior Court of jurisdiction would issue the arrest warrant as per the prosecutor’s request, based on the belief that the indicted defendant is unlikely to appear unless he or she is arrested.

Bench Warrants & Outstanding Warrants

A bench warrant is initiated by a judge presiding over an active case before the courts. A bench warrant (“from the bench”) means the warrant stems from some court-related defect, such as failure to appear (FTA) before the court as ordered or summoned.

If you fail to appear on your court date, the judge may write a warrant and enter it into the warrants database notifying law enforcement that they are authorized to arrest you for the FTA violation.

The major difference between the bench warrant and straight arrest warrant is that police are much more likely to actively look for you in order to bring you in on an arrest warrant.

Because a bench warrant is not issued in connection with a serious, active crime, the warrant will typically remain in the system as “outstanding,” meaning police will not actively search for the named individual.

However, anyone with an outstanding bench warrant is still likely to be apprehended sooner or later, in any of the following possible ways:

  • When city or town police decide to do a Warrant Sweep
  • You’re pulled over for a typical traffic stop
  • You need to get your driver’s license transferred or renewed
  • You are involved in or caught up in an altercation Or
  • Any other police investigation, civil or criminal matter.

Therefore, ignoring your warrant, regardless of how it issued, is very risky. The odds of any one of the above occurring is high, if not inevitable, and downplaying a warrant for your arrest is certain to have increasingly negative effects upon your future.

If you have an outstanding warrant/s, or are wanted in connection with an active criminal case, please do not hesitate to call me at 978-452-1116 as soon as possible.


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Attorney Gregory Oberhauser

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Gregory Oberhauser is the ONLY attorney in Massachusetts to be distinguished as an ACS-CHAL Forensic Lawyer-Scientist by the American Chemical Society!

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