Can You Get a Passport With a Bench Warrant?

Can You Get a Passport With a Bench Warrant?
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Having a bench warrant sounds pretty intimidating, if you ask me. However, not all bench warrants are created equal, and not every single one means that one’s a Class A criminal. So, is it possible to get a passport with a bench warrant issued in your name?

We’ll answer this and some other related questions in this brief blog post.

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What exactly is a bench warrant?

Like the name itself suggests, a bench warrant literally refers to a courtroom bench. This type of warrant provides the grounds for an arrest, and is issued when an individual has failed to appear in court on the designated court date, whether it be for a ticket summons, missing jury duty, failing to pay child support, or something much darker on the criminal record.

If a US citizen has an outstanding warrant in their name, law enforcement officers won’t pursue them because of it. Rather, it may show up unexpectedly on the occasion of, let’s say, being pulled over for speeding.

Any encounter with the police may result in the outstanding warrant coming to the surface, so the sooner you take care of it the better.

Bench warrant vs. arrest warrant

These two, although the same in their final result—arrest—differ in terms of their issuance. While an arrest warrant is a sort of petition on part of a law enforcement officer that must wait to be signed by the judge before it is issued, a bench warrant is something the judge oversees from beginning to end. It’s a warrant issued from the judge’s bench, hence the name.

Find out more about passports from these articles:

Misdemeanors vs. felonies

There is a significant difference between a misdemeanor and a felony. Misdemeanors are less serious offenses that are subject to lighter penalties, including community service, fines, probation, or less than a year of jail time.

Some examples of misdemeanors include shoplifting, DUI (driving under the influence), or possession of fewer than 20 grams of marijuana. Felonies, on the other hand, involve much more serious crimes, such as rape, murder or homicide, kidnapping, or embezzlement.

In general, misdemeanor bench warrants won’t prevent anyone from getting a passport, but a felony warrant, on the other hand, may cause your application to be denied, and may even cause an escalation of one’s problems with the law.

Bench warrants & your right to apply for a passport

As with many cases of this type, whether your warrant will cause a passport denial depends on several factors. In the US federal law, Title 22 (Foreign Relations, PART 51—PASSPORTS, Subpart E—Denial, Revocation, and Restriction of Passports) foresees 3 (three) instances which are substantial reasons for the State Department to refuse to issue a passport, and these are:

  • a criminal court order, condition of probation, or condition of parole forbidding the person to leave the United States,
  • a federal warrant for a felony,
  • a state or local warrant for a felony.

An important factor that plays a role here is whether the committed or suspected felony forbids you to leave the United States. If yes, then logically Americans don’t have the right to apply for a US passport and travel internationally, as this is equivalent to them leaving their jurisdiction and escaping justice altogether.

In other cases, if there is a felony warrant for your arrest (whether local, state, or federal), you are not eligible to apply for a passport, unless you’re currently outside of the United States and need a passport to return to the country, or are subject to extradition from a foreign country.

Other offenses and applying for a passport

Something that may come as a surprise is that someone who has committed a sex crime involving children is still eligible to apply for a passport. Their status as a child sex offender must be noted on their passport, but they’re free to cross borders.

However, international drug traffickers, those who are over $5,000 behind in their child support, or individuals who have failed to pay their taxes or federal loans are automatically disqualified from getting a passport.

What happens if you have a warrant and apply for a US passport?

The main form in the US passport application process—the DS-11 form—obliges all applicants to legally state that they are “not the subject of an outstanding federal, state, or local warrant of arrest for a felony.”

If there is an arrest warrant issued in your name and you apply for a passport lying about your felony warrant, you will most likely get arrested by the proper authorities for the charges stated on your warrant and lying to the US State Department.

As has been mentioned earlier, not every bench warrant is the same. Failing to show up in court regarding a speeding or parking ticket won’t be treated the same as having a felony warrant when it comes to your passport application.

The US State Department has set forth conditions governing the passport revocation or issuance regarding warrants, and these include local, state, or federal felony offenses, and felony arrest warrants forbidding those subject to them to leave the United States.

The only case when someone with a felony arrest warrant may legally apply for a US passport is when they are on foreign soil or are subject to extradition. 

Applying for a passport with a misdemeanor warrant

If a bench warrant involves failure to show up in court for a misdemeanor and not a felony charge, you are eligible to apply for a new passport. The steps to getting a passport will be the same as for everyone else in this case, but remember—you still have a bench warrant in your name and if you’re questioned about it at any stage of your passport application process by the State Department, you must answer truthfully and not try to conceal it.

A misdemeanor warrant is not as serious as a felony one, and it probably won’t cause a passport denial, but lying to law enforcement or government officials is never a good idea and may cause you unnecessary stress.

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As mentioned earlier, US citizens can apply for a passport if their warrants do not include serious felonies. Whether for a first-time or renewed passport, every applicant needs their current picture to complete the process. To avoid the administrative hassle, we present you with a comfortable solution: Passport Photo Online.

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Having discussed the details about bench warrants, let’s answer some of the most frequently asked questions.

Can you apply for a passport if you have an outstanding bench warrant?

It all depends on the type of the issued warrant —a misdemeanor warrant probably won’t affect the individual’s chances of getting a passport, while a felony warrant (especially one that demands you don’t leave the country) will cause your passport application to get rejected and may even lead to your immediate arrest.

What happens if you apply for a passport with an outstanding warrant?

The passport application will most likely get denied. Depending on the severity of the offense for which you were issued a warrant you may also be arrested for the charges appearing there.

Getting a passport with a bench warrant—summary

Getting a US passport with a bench warrant is possible. However, individuals need to remember that different types of such warrants may tremendously influence on how the US Department of State will perceive one’s passport application.

Before filing for the US passport, ensure you understand your warrant’s legal consequences and, ideally, seek legal advice to take care of the matter as smoothly as possible.

Finally, being eligible to apply for a US passport, remember there’s Passport Photo Online to help you with your passport images. Conveniently and fast from your own home.


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