A Real-Life Sample Case
A few years ago received an email from a United States Army Sargent stationed in Germany. He was being invited to join an Elite Force subdivision of the military and required additional security clearance for his position. The problem was that he had an old bench warrant for Theft of Services in Queens County. When I say ‘old bench warrant’, I mean this case was more than ten years old. So the first thing you need to know is that your bench warrant isn’t going anywhere. Like luggage, they hang around forever until you do something about it.
Without a copy of the desk appearance ticket or summons, getting a bench warrant vacated takes some research and some luck. In this case, I didn’t know if the case had been pending in the summons part of Queens Criminal Court at 120-55 Queens Boulevard or the Queens Criminal Court Main Building at 125-01 Queens Boulevard or if this was a theft of services case for failing to pay transit fare, in which case the matter would be pending in the MTA Administrative Court.
I began my search at the Summons part, but was told by the clerk that they couldn’t look up a case by name. Despite my client being a member of the United States Military and being unable to appear in person, the clerk was completely unwilling to help me. Of course, his claim that he could not look up defendants by name was completely untrue, but occasionally you will come across employees who, for reasons unknown, refuse to assist you. When this happens, my advice is to just walk away and return on another day. In my experience, you don’t get very far yelling and screaming at a civil service employee and they will remember you forever — and refuse to ever help you again beyond the most basic of requests. Taking my own advice, I walked away — in this case, directly to the Main Criminal Court building next door.
Fortunately, the clerks the Queens Criminal Court were far more compassionate and tried a few different searches (my client had undergone a name change) before uncovering the correct case. They wrote the case number down on a piece of paper and instructed me to go to Room 1 and hand the paper to the court officer.
I walked down the hall to Court Room 1 and approached one of the court officers. This is the part where most defendants get REALLY nervous. Because once you hand the paper to the court officer, you are informing law enforcement that there is a warrant for your arrest and presenting yourself to the judge, who has quite a few options at his or her disposal.
If the case was for an extremely trivial matter, such as a violation, you can probably rest easy and not worry about being thrown in jail. However, for misdemeanors and felonies, you may be offered a deal on the spot by the Assistant District Attorney. If you refuse the offered deal, the ADA can request that you post bail to ensure you return to court on the next court date. If the judge grants the ADA’s bail application and you came alone, you are out of luck. You will be handcuffed and processed and jailed until someone posts bail on your behalf.
For this reason, some judges will refuse to vacate a bench warrant without the defendant being present. In Queens on this day, I recognized the judge as one of these judges. She was a relatively new judge and not particularly keen on the idea of lawyers having warrants vacated on behalf of their clients.
Fortunately, the ADA had never filed the proper paperwork and the case was subject to dismissal. After I explained to the judge that my client was active US Military and handing the judge an abundance of documents supporting this, the judge agreed to vacate the bench warrant and dismiss the underlying charges.
From there, I walked to the other clerk’s office and obtained an Official Certificate of Disposition at a cost of ten dollars. I immediately scanned the document and emailed it to my client in Germany, who was able to present it to the Army Human Resources Director on base and become qualified to receive advanced security clearances.
Getting a bench warrant vacated can be a nerve-racking experience — especially for more serious cases. However, doing nothing is the worst thing you can do. Vacating the bench warrant will allow you to move on with your life without your job application and background checks getting flagged.
Sometimes it’s something you can do for yourself and sometimes it’s something you should hire an attorney to handle for you. If you aren’t sure about how to handle your New York bench warrant, just give me a call at 212-920-6950 and I will provide you with a free consultation and advice.