You received a desk appearance ticket for shoplifting in Manhattan. You flew home to London before your court appearance. Now a bench warrant awaits you in New York City Criminal Court.
You received a summons for hanging out in Central Park after hours. You started a new job in Sao Paolo before the return date. A bench warrant’s waiting for you in New York.
You were arrested for smoking marijuana outside a club in Greenwich Village. The judge released you on your own recognizance, but you were still terrified that you’d be sentenced to jail, so you didn’t return to court when you were supposed to. Now you’re back in Lagos, with a bench warrant waiting in New York.
Bench warrants are patient. They sit in databases forever, until they’re vacated. Often long after the underlying charges have become impossible to prove.
Someday you might want to return to the U.S. to visit family or go on vacation.
Or you might need to return to the U.S. to resume your life, because you live here.
Problem is that when you cross the border, the warrant will pop up. You will be arrested and brought before the court that issued the warrant.
What to do?
You should know that in such situations, particularly if you’re accused of a low-level offense, such as a misdemeanor or a violation, it’s often possible to resolve your case in absentia — in your absence.
A criminal defense lawyer can try to negotiate a settlement of your case with the District Attorney. The settlement might involve dismissal of the charges or, less favorably, a guilty plea with no jail. In exchange, you might be required to do community service, pay restitution, and/or pay a fine.
As part of the deal, your lawyer will appear in court without you, and the judge will vacate your warrant and enter the agreed-upon resolution of your case. All without you being there.
Afterwards, no warrant will exist to complicate your entry to the United States.
However, BE CAREFUL that you don’t plead guilty to a crime that will prevent you from crossing the US border.