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Judge Only Bench Warrant & Contempt

I plead guilty to stealing a car in 1990. I was sentenced to 6-23 months in Philadelphia county, but my lawyer asked for a turn-in date so that I could have time to get my affairs in order. I was given 10 days to turn myself in. When the 10 days came, I went–literally. I got scared and fled. About 20 years later, I got picked up and I am sitting jail waiting to get the judge only bench warrant lifted. I am a different man then I was 20 years ago. I think I should be automatically paroled now, but my lawyer tells me that I need to get the bench warrant lifted first because she is worried that I will be held in contempt. I don’t understand any of this. Why would I be held in contempt?

When you fail to appear in court, the judge can issue a bench warrant or a judge only bench warrant. A normal bench warrant means that when you are picked up on the bench warrant, you can get the bench warrant lifted by any judge or commissioner and continue on with either your sentence, probation, parole, or post bail on your case. If you have a judge only bench warrant, that means the judge wants to personally see you, and you must wait until the judge that issued the bench warrant holds a bench warrant hearing and lifts the warrant.

The judge has the power to hold you in contempt because you ignored the subpoena from the original court date. The judge can give you a sentence of up to 2 months and 29 days to 6 months. Remember that any sentence where the max is less then 24 months is controlled by the sentencing judge, so in effect, the judge in a contempt sentence can refuse your parole, thereby making your contempt sentence a flat 6 months.

If the judge that holds your judge only bench warrant is a moderate to liberal judge, that judge may not give you contempt on your judge only bench warrant if your lawyer makes a good arguement. Therefore, why ask for parole until AFTER the bench warrant is lifted. The last thing that you want to do is anger a good judge. After you wait about 1 or 2 months, file the parole petition and you will have a shot if in fact you did change your life over the 20 year period of time.

2 Comments on Judge Only Bench Warrant & Contempt

  1. Anonymous // at 6:12 pm // Reply

    Is there anything else that the Judge can do to you besides contempt? Is there such a crime as Failure to Appear? If so, can I be punished both for this crime and also get contempt?

  2. They can't do anything to you other than the contempt if you have already been sentenced or if you had a negotiated guilty plea and have not been sentenced.

    If you have not been sentenced and you plead open, or you haven't even had a trial yet, obviously, the judge could take into account the fact that you fled when giving you a sentence. Or, if it is a jury trial, can give a flight instruction to the jury.

    The good question is about the crime of Failure to Appear. The question you should ask is, if I have not yet been sentenced, and the judge takes the failure to appear in account when giving me my sentence, how can I get charged with the second crime of Failure to Appear? Isn't that double jeopardy?

    We know clearly in Federal Court it is not double jeopardy, because there is no double jeopardy from sentencing enhancements.

    In state court we do not know the answer. However, we believe that it is double jeopardy and we have a case in the Superior Court with this issue right now with some different twists.

    This issue comes up far more often then you think. I will update this post as we get further along. Great comment.

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