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Philadelphia Opens New Bench Warrant Court – 300 Jailed for Missing Court


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 bail commissioner.

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. Mike Parkinson, 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.