On April 16, 2012, the Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia implemented
a new court for individuals with outstanding bench warrants. This new "Bench Warrant Court" is in response to the large number of people failing to appear for
their scheduled court dates in Philadelphia. The Honorable Joseph C. Waters
is presiding over this new arena for dealing with people with open bench
warrants and is
jailing those who miss court.
Prior to the implementation of this new court, bench warrant hearings were
heard primarily in one of two places. If a person happened to be arrested
or picked up by law enforcement on the street with an open bench warrant,
his or her hearing took place in front of a bail commissioner at the Curran
Fromhold Correctional Facility. On the other hand, a person could turn
themselves in on the warrant. In that case, one would turn himself in
to the warrant unit located in the basement at the Criminal Justice Center,
Monday through Friday before 8 a.m. They would then be given a subpoena
for court later in the day for a hearing to address the issue before a
In either circumstance, the person had an opportunity to explain to the
bail commissioner why they missed court. If there was a legitimate excuse
for missing court, the commissioner would, in most cases, give the person
another court listing without increasing the individual's bail. Not
having a good reason usually meant new or increased bail and the person
would sit in jail until that was paid.
Under the old system, there was rarely a penalty for missing court other
than new or increased bail. Not any more. A judge, not a bail commissioner,
presides over the new Bench Warrant Court. That judge has the power to
penalize people who miss court with another sanction other than merely
increasing ones bail. The judge has the authority to find a person in
contempt of court for missing a scheduled hearing. Contempt carries with
it a potential sentence of up to 6 months in jail and that is just for
missing one court date. These six months in jail do not count toward any
sentence for the underlying arrest. It goes to say that if someone appears
in Bench Warrant Court without a good reason to justify missing court,
they have a pretty good chance of going to jail. It is clear that in creating
Bench Warrant Court, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has mandated that
if someone misses court and doesn't have a good reason, they should
do some jail time. In fact, Supreme Court
Justice Ronald Castille has said exactly this.
If you or someone you know have missed court in Philadelphia and have an
open bench warrant, you should immediately contact a lawyer who has experience
with criminal defense and bench warrant hearings in Philadelphia. The
new rules and the orders from the Supreme Court have changed the rules
and raised the stakes.
Tim Tarpey and Jim Lloyd are criminal defense attorneys and former Philadelphia Assistant
District Attorneys who have litigated hundreds of bench warrant hearings.
Talk to an experienced attorney
before you face the possibility of imprisonment in Philadelphia's new Bench
Warrant Court. We represent clients in Philadelphia, Bucks, Montgomery,
and Delaware Counties with open bench warrants.
Call us at (215) 352-3432.