This article is a companion to a previous article about having an outstanding Probation Violation Warrant for not Reporting. In this article, we'll look at those cases where someone has, for lack of a more proper term, essentially "skipped out" or "bailed" on a Criminal case at some point in the process (even if it's because they never took the first step). This situation comes up often enough in my Criminal Practice to require some discussion. We'll be talking about those individuals who either did not show up to turn themselves in on a Warrant (either to a Police Station or to a Court) and were never formally Arraigned, or those individuals who have been Arraigned, and at some point in the Criminal Process, just failed to come back. Since I limit my Practice to Macomb, Oakland and Wayne Counties, we'll be talking about how things are handled within the Tri-County area.
In some cases, a person will receive a Notice (and this can take the form of a written Court Notice or a call from a Police Detective) that there is a Warrant for their arrest, and they need to turn themselves in. These "turn-in" instructions can require that the person either report directly to a Court, or to a Police Department. For whatever reason or reasons (usually because they're scared) the person will simply just fail to follow-up as directed.
In cases where a person has already gone through that first step of "booking" and/or Arraignment, a subsequent Court date is set, and the person is either personally informed of that upcoming date, or Notice is sent by mail.
In still other cases, a person may have shown up to a subsequent Court date. Perhaps they went to Court for their Pre-Trial, and they might even have worked out a Plea deal. At some point along the line however (often prior to their Sentencing date) the person just drops out of the picture.
Just as with Probation Violation Warrants, the outstanding Warrants in these cases are taken care of in 1 of 2 ways:
1. A person voluntarily turns him or herself in to clear things up, or
2. They get picked up by the Police.
I think it goes without saying that those in the first group will find themselves treated far more leniently than those in the second group.
And just like Probation "absconders," rest assured that pretty much everyone who does get picked up by the Police on an outstanding Warrant for an unresolved Criminal case, and who is brought before a Judge, has the same story: "I was going to turn myself in, but..." or "I was planning on taking care of this..." or some other line that has to do with some un-performed plan to not let the case sit unresolved for as long as it did. In the previous article, I noted that if there was ever a time the term "bulls**t" applies, it's here, when the excuses to the Judge are flying fast and furiously.
When someone undertakes the effort to come back, however, and resolve an outstanding Criminal case, even though they essentially walked away from it before, they will always be treated with more understanding and sympathy than the excuse-maker that got picked up and who is talking fast, but explaining little, to the Judge.
This is not to say, of course, that a Judge will typically say "oh, no big deal...glad you're back, don't worry about it..." but it is to point out that when a person makes arrangements to walk into Court with, or at least on the advice and under the arrangements of their Lawyer, and address their outstanding case, they can pretty much bank on walking out the same door they came in through, as well. Any question about their intention to return to Court is, by and large, demonstrated by their voluntarily appearance to address the outstanding matter.
To help get a clearer picture of what goes on in these cases, imagine for a moment you are a Judge. On a busy Court day, a person and their Lawyer walk into Court and you are handed the file showing that the person skipped out on their case about a year ago, and that a Bench Warrant was issued for their Arrest. You will, of course, recall (or cancel) the Warrant, and you might just reinstate their old Bond, or, if that can't be done, issue a new Bond in an amount that the person can afford. The fact is, the person is there, in front of you, because they decided to clear things up.
Later that same morning, when the previous night's arrestees are brought in from lockup, you likewise have before you a person who skipped out on their case about a year ago. Without knowing anything else, you know they had some Police contact, and when their identity was discovered it also popped up that they had this outstanding Bench Warrant. And, as you can probably guess, just for kicks you ask them where they've been, and you hear the excuses start to fly, and some version of the "I was going to come in" line thrown at you, for good measure.
Do you think that, as the Judge, you would handle each of these cases in the same way? I'm sure you don't have to think either long, or hard about this one. It's a no-brainer. The voluntary surrender is walking out the front door, and the fast-talking arrestee is going out the rear door and back to the pokey with a big enough Bond to make sure that if it's posted, it will be too much money to just abandon by skipping out again.
In my practice, the majority of these cases I handle involve those who want to clear up the outstanding case and do so voluntarily. This process involves making some arrangements beforehand to make sure the Client can walk out of Court with me. This is why, for example, I never favor Friday surrenders; what if a person gets to Court and discovers that the Judge isn't there, but still gets held on the Warrant? They could get stuck until Monday! By making arrangements beforehand, that kind of problem can be avoided.
In the Detroit area, different Courts have different procedures for walk-in Arraignments. In some Courts, they're only done certain days of the week and at certain times. Other Courts will pretty much do it any day of the week, either in the morning or afternoon. Still other Courts will do it any day, but only between certain very early times in the morning. Having the Lawyer who'll go with you, or at least who will direct you, and who know these things in advance, can save a lot of frustration (translation- wasted day off, and/or getting locked up overnight...) later on.
From a Lawyer's point of view, you want to direct the Judge's attention to the person's voluntary act of coming in as proof of their intention to return to Court, rather than let the Judge focus too much on the fact that they simply skipped out. Along with that, most Judges figure that if a person has plunked down some Retainer Fee to hire a Lawyer, it's further proof of their intention to, and investment in, wrapping things up.
I also get hired to represent people who have skipped out and finally get caught. In these cases, the first order of business is to direct the Judge's anger away from the fact that they simply bailed and never came back until they got caught to the usual reason for having done that, which is that they simply got scared, or panicked, and with every thought of turning themselves in came the equally-strong fear of what would happen. Look, I would be lying if I pretended that those who get caught will get the same breaks, at least as far as the outstanding Bench Warrant goes, as those who walk in on their own. Still, this isn't a time to roll over and play dead.
Perhaps the most significant point of this article is that if you, or someone you know, has an outstanding Warrant in a Criminal case, the faster they take care of it, the better. Things will always be better for those who voluntarily walk in (preferably with, or at least on the advice of their Lawyer) and take care of business than for those who get picked up and brought before the Judge in handcuffs and belly-chains.