Have a Warrant for an Arrest Years Ago?

May 4, 2015

When someone is arrested, law enforcement compiles the evidence and drafts a police report of the incident – e.g., DUI arrest. The arrest report containing the opinion(s) of the officer is then forwarded to the prosecuting agency for review to determine whether formal charges should be filed. In particular, the case is sent to a designated “filing deputy.” Usually the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office has 4 to 5 on staff filing deputies at each courthouse. Due to the overwhelming number of arrests that occur in Los Angeles County each day, filing deputies may not have the time to review the evidence in a particular case. In that instance, the case is placed in a “to review” pile while the filing deputy finishes reviewing other cases. Often times, the filing deputy may not get to a particular case for months, and in some cases, years.

In many instances, one will be arrested and given a court date. When they attend court, the court or clerk’s office is unaware of their case and sends them home. The reason is because the prosecuting agency hasn’t filed charges with the court, yet. Once charges are filed, notice of court date is mailed to the defendant. However, there are cases where the police officer writes the wrong address, the prosecuting agency mis-writes the address, or you moved to another address. If the court or prosecuting agency mails notice to an address, but you never received it, and you ultimately miss your court appearance, and the court will issue a bench warrant for your arrest. Sometimes, individuals can have outstanding bench warrants for years and not even know it.

Criminal defense attorneys are aware of Serna v. Superior Court in which may entitle a criminal defendant to earn a dismissal on all charges due to a violation of their speedy trial right. To be clear, a criminal defendant may have the case dismissed upon showing they have been prejudiced – i.e., the unreasonable delay substantially infringed upon their ability to defend the charges. Some examples include, witness memories fade, exculpatory evidence is lost or destroyed, and death of witnesses, and the list can go on. In all misdemeanor cases, if the period of when charges are filed to the time of your arraignment exceeds one year, prejudice will be presumed and thus the burden justifying the delay will be placed on the prosecutor. In a majority of cases, the prosecutor will show that “a letter was mailed to the defendant and did not come back unreturned,” however a single letter may not suffice in all cases. The court will examine whether the prosecutor made a good-faith effort to bring you to court.

In order to recall the issued warrant, you must go to court and have the judge recall it. Just because a bench warrant was issued for failing to appear in court does not always mean you will be arrested the day you walk into court. If you were arrested for a misdemeanor offense, your attorney may be able to recall the bench warrant on your behalf without you ever having to appear before a judge, pursuant to Penal Code § 977. If you have an outstanding warrant, it’s best to clear it up right away before being picked up by law enforcement and subsequently having to appear in custody before a judge.


Dan was arrested for DUI in Los Angeles by an LAPD officer. The police officer took him to jail for the remainder of the evening to sober up. Upon his release 6 hour later, the police officer issued Dan a court date for his arraignment on the DUI charges. Two months later, on the scheduled date the officer told Dan to attend court, Dan discovered that his case was filed and he was told to go home. Dan was further told that if charges are filed then he should be receiving notice in the mail. Six months later, Dan moves to another address and updated his information with the Department of Motor Vehicles. Two months later, the prosecutor files DUI charges against Dan. The letter informing Dan of the charges is mailed to his old address. Three years pass and Dan is pulled over for speeding. The officer runs Dan’s driver’s license and discovers an outstanding warrant to failing to appear in the court. Dan is arrested and taken to jail for booking. Dan hires a criminal defense attorney to attend court and recall the bench warrant. In this case, because there was over a three year delay, Dan has suffered presumed prejudice. Therefore, the prosecutor must demonstrate their reasonable efforts to bring Dan to court. Although the prosecuting agency mailed a letter, Dan can show that he never received it because he moved addresses two months prior it’s mailing to his old address. The outcome of this case is likely to lead to a complete case dismissal.

Contact Us to Schedule a Free Consultation

If you have been arrested, charged, or under investigation for a crime, contact Newport Beach Criminal Defense Attorney at the Law Offices of John D. Rogers to schedule a free confidential consultation concerning your rights and defenses.

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