Not much is scarier than knowing you can be arrested at any moment. When the federal, state or local law enforcement has an arrest warrant with your name on it, you can be picked up immediately if you meet the police. Regardless of the reason, unpaid parking ticket even, you’re on your way to jail.

When the government sends out a warrant for your arrest, their goal is to find you and make sure you address any unfinished business you have with the courts. You have few options.


Don’t Get Caught

The first option is to avoid the circumstance completely, gamble and hope you don’t get caught. Even if a warrant has been issued, it is unlikely that the cops will be proactive in looking for you — unless you’ve committed a particularly heinous crime. Get pulled over for a traffic violation though — or even attempting to renew your driver license — will get you arrested and a free ride to jail. The avoidance option isn’t the wisest course of action.


Take Care of Business

The second option is to take care of the warrant at the courthouse. The courts won’t arrest you if you come in to pay your fine or even set up a payment arrangement. Just be sure to make your plans known — and clear — when you get to the courthouse. If you arrive to settle a separate matter, but don’t address the warrant, you, more than likely, will be arrested by law enforcement there.

Usually, additional fees are added to whatever other fines you owe. For instance, you may have to pay a surcharge to remove outstanding warrants from your record, another fine for failure to appear and possibly even a collections fee that is normally around 30% of the original fine. All of the fees must be paid to remove the warrant — unless you have reached an agreeable payment plan with the court clerk.

If you’re unsure if a warrant has been issued, a call to the courthouse will give you the answer. Look for local numbers online. Some jurisdictions allow for an online warrant search as well.


Bench Warrants

If you receive a summons or subpoena and fail to show up in court, the presiding judge has the right to issue a “bench warrant”. This is an order from the judge to law enforcement instructing them to find you and compel you to appear.

Getting a Bench Warrant removed from your record is the same as a regular warrant. However, you’re almost certainly looking at some jail time even while the warrant is being handled.

There are two types of bench warrants. One, a bond warrant, means you can post bond and have the bench warrant removed. The other is a no-bond warrant, issued usually in the case of a violent crime, and means that you will be spending some time in jail until you see the judge.

If the bench warrant has a bond attached, paying the fines will usually get you some documents from the clerk proving that your warrant has been removed.

Since computer databases can take some time to update, make sure to carry the documentation of a cleared bench warrant with you for at least two weeks.