In the event that a judge or magistrate wishes to summon an individual before them, or they wish certain actions to be undertaken, they do so by using something known as a 'warrant'. You will almost certainly have heard the term 'warrant' many times, but many people are not fully aware of what the term actually means.
A warrant is a legal document, ordered and signed by a judge or magistrate that authorizes the appropriate branch of law enforcement to carry out certain actions against an individual subject. This can mean authorizing the subject's arrest for an appearance in court, the search and/or seizure of the subject's property, or some other action relating to the administration of justice.
So, what can having a warrant out for you actually result in, and what are the implications of having a warrant issued against you? Should you even bother to get it dealt with? Well, this obviously depends on what the warrant is relating to; there are countless reasons that a judge or magistrate may have decided to take certain proceedings relating to you, and this will be reflected in the type of warrant that is issued.
Some possible consequences can include; being arrested, being detained, having property seized or searched, being ordered to pay a fine or other court-ordered payment, or other possible scenarios. Even such things as social benefits and applying for/renewing a driving license or passport can be affected in certain circumstances.
Of course, many of the cases that judges and magistrates deal with are for minor infractions, unpaid speeding fines, misdemeanors, and similar violations; and it is not a court's legal obligation to notify the subject that a warrant has been issued in their name. This means it is entirely possible that you could have a warrant out against you without even being aware of it.
Luckily, it is possible for you to find out if there are any warrants out in your name, and how you go about obtaining this information will depend on the type of warrant that has been issued.
The type of warrant served will be dependent upon the nature of the violation it relates too. If deemed appropriate, a judge or magistrate may issue either a bench warrant or an arrest warrant, and the implications of these are very different for the individual being issued.
A bench warrant is a documented order from a judge or magistrate that authorizes the on-sight arrest of an individual, with the intention being to bring them before the court. If you have a bench warrant out against you, it could be for any number of reasons, but often they are issued for failure to pay speeding tickets or attend court dates.
A bench warrant may also be issued if you fail to keep up with alimony payments or child support, in the event that you fail to attend court-ordered events such as community service, or if you breach the terms of your bail or probation. Such terms can include regularly attending drug and alcohol tests, and failure to attend these, or failure to pass the test, could result in a bench warrant being issued against you.
So what are the actual implications of having a bench warrant out in your name? Well, the degree to which this will affect you depends mainly on whether the warrant is in relation to a felony or non-felony violation.
A felony violation is much more likely to result in you being arrested should the police ever run a check on you, which will happen nearly every time you interact with them, most likely following a routine traffic stop.
However with a non-felony bench warrant, there is always the possibility that they can remain unserved for many years, as a result of the sheer volume of bench warrants outstanding, as well as lapse checks by government officials and even the police. This might lead you into the false impression that the warrant has somehow 'expired'.
Another aspect of bench warrants is that they can often affect things such as applying for or renewing passports, driving licenses and other official government applications. In some cases, they can even affect any benefits you may be receiving from the government, or affect your ability to leave the country in extreme cases.
So how long does a bench warrant last for? And is there a bench warrant expiration limit? The actual fact is that a warrant never expires; the Statute of Limitations concerns the length of time after a crime has passed before a prosecution can be brought. If you have been charged with something, a bench warrant regarding that charge can last indefinitely.
A bench warrant will stay active until either you have been arrested, you have died, or the court has recalls the warrant. This is not an automatic expiry though, if the Statute of Limitations on the violation is exceeded, a judge or magistrate can recall the warrant, but there is no set length of time that a warrant can remain in your name.
For minor violations however, many states clear their backlog of outstanding warrants after a set period of time has elapsed, and this set period varies between states. Whilst this may be thought of as the warrant 'expiring', it is not completely automatic; it has to be signed off by the court, and is done so at their individual discretion.
An arrest warrant is an altogether more serious matter.
A judge or magistrate may issue an arrest warrant against you if you there is strong probable cause that you have committed a felony violation (a felony violation is one which carries a jail term of longer than 1 year). It is a legal document that gives officers of the law authorization to actively seek out your arrest and detention, or the search/seizure of your property.
In accordance with the 4th Amendment, a valid arrest warrant is one which:
- contains adequate probable cause,
- is issued by a neutral and detached magistrate,
- is issued on the basis of a police affidavit that does not contain known or reckless falsehoods,
- particularly describes the person to be arrested.
Arrest warrants can be issued by both state and federal judges. A state judge only has jurisdiction over their own state and it's state laws. However, if a federal law has been broken, then a federal judge, usually on behalf of the Department of Justice, may order a federal arrest warrant. The jurisdiction for a federal warrant covers the entirety of the U.S.
As with bench warrants, arrest warrants have no automatic expiration date, although a search warrant will usually have a set time-frame within which it must be completed.
An outstanding warrant is simply any warrant that has been issued and remains active because the subject has yet to be arrested and the judge or magistrate has not recalled the warrant. In the case of an outstanding arrest warrant, due to the nature in which the subject is actively pursued by the police, it is most likely the result of the subject evading capture, or going missing for some other reason.
So, it is easy to see how you could have a warrant out on you, and could possibly have had for some time, without you really knowing it. It is a sobering thought; that little speeding ticket you picked up a few years ago could come back to haunt you.
A more proactive approach is always the best option when it comes to matters like this, so you are probably wondering if it is possible to find out if you have any outstanding warrants in your name.
You should also be very wary of illegitimate sites attempting to pass themselves off as official government sites, especially when entering your personal details. Any official government site will end in '.gov' and not '.com'.
There are plenty of 3rd party websites that can offer a warrant search, some are premium service and others can offer a reduced search for free.consequences
If you know the court which you suspect may have issued a warrant, you can contact the warrant officer at that courthouse, or get a warrant officer at any courthouse in that state to perform a state-wide database search.
This however, carries certain risks. If you do have an outstanding warrant issued, it could result in your immediate arrest. It is always best to have your defense prepared first before being arrested on a warrant, so this is not always the wisest option.
It is also worth noting that the information received from a warrant officer will not always be thorough. If, for example, the warrant relates to family matters, juvenile delinquency, or domestic violence, then details of the warrant may not be available to other warrant officers and clerks. As well as this, if the court clerk is operating on another circuit from the court issuing the warrant, a search may not show up certain warrants.
As if that was not enough, the technicalities for how bench warrants are issued depends upon the state they are issued in. Some states will notify you by post if a bench warrant is issued for you. However, due to the large percentage of bench warrant notifications that are returned undelivered, a number of states and counties do not send out notifications at all. This means anybody who misses a court date or does not pay a fine or speeding ticket runs the risk of being arrested at any time, without any prior warning.
Luckily, there is one very good option if you would like the security of knowing there is not a ticking legal time-bomb out there with your name on it. Persopo.com can provide exceptionally easy and professional warrant look-up service.
Of course, finding out if you have an outstanding warrant is one thing, but what is the best course of action should you find out you do have a warrant? Of course it is always better to deal with an outstanding warrant as promptly as possible.
In the case of more serious offenses, actively evading a warrant will have adverse consequences as far as any trial is concerned, as well as chances of bail and other important factors. And as far as bench warrants are concerned, fines that remain unpaid can incur further charges, and this can snowball out of control. So a calm frame of mind and a good deal of pragmatism is called for; try to think what the consequences of your actions could be 12 months after before taking any drastic action.
But there is a balance to be struck here. Simply going straight to a court house or police station and asking them to check can result in you being arrested and detained on the spot. If you are not fully aware of what the violation is before you are arrested, this could prove counter-productive. Whenever you are chancing arrest, it is always best to go fully-prepared to defend yourself, and have a clear and concise course of action planned.
Your first course of action, assuming it is not a federal warrant, is to look into how warrants work in the particular state you are in, or the state in which the warrant was issued. You can usually find the appropriate information on either the state's official website, or else possibly look on the specific county's website (remember, always make sure it ends in .gov). The particular technicalities of the state warrant could be a key factor in deciding the best course of action is.
Then you need to start gathering as much of the relevant information and paperwork regarding the case as possible. You should begin by confirming as accurately as possible the date of the offense, and the date on which the warrant was issued.
There is always the possibility that the Statute of Limitations could have passed on the violation if it is a minor one; if it occurred more than two years ago then you should investigate this avenue further. As said previously however, the warrant may still be outstanding even if the Statute of Limitations on the original charge has passed. This can happen, and it can cause administrative problems for you if left unaddressed.
Undoubtably, getting yourself reliable legal counsel is crucial. If necessary they can interact on your behalf before you visit the police or court house in person; allowing you the time to adequately prepare yourself, prepare your defense, organize anything you need to present to the police or court, and also make preparations for the outcome. In this instance you should be key to cooperate with the court as much as possible. Judges and magistrates are human beings, they realize that things can get forgotten and overlooked, and that people will change address making compliance difficult. They are much more likely to be lenient and make an effort to empathize if they can see that you are being fully cooperative and are making an effort to cooperate and comply with their wishes.
Deciding on an attorney to represent you is a decision you should put a little more time into than simply calling the first name in the phonebook. As good as Aaronson, Aaronson and Aardvark may be, there will be countless attorneys out there who are better suited to your particular case. The law is a complex body, and every part of it has specialist lawyers. You wouldn't go searching for the best neurosurgeon if you need a knee operation. Try enquiring with friends or with trusted sources for good attorneys who specialize in the your specific needs.
Of course, the cost of hiring an attorney must be balanced according to how much you can afford, and how much you can afford to lose. There is no point hiring Johnnie Cochran if you owe $200 in unpaid alimony. Neither do you want to see your attorney moonlighting as a cab driver if he's defending you for grand larceny.
Of course there is the possibility that you may not be able to afford an attorney. In this circumstance you should contact the public defender's office in the state where the warrant was issued and give them as much information as possible, they will act as your attorney. A public defender is also available if you are arrested for an outstanding warrant, and this option will be given to you upon arrest or upon being processed.
The best piece of advice for anybody with a warrant for them is to keep calm. Panicking and acting without considering the consequences is far more likely to result in a negative outcome. Considering more serious charges, if you are afraid to interact with the authorities yourself, then you can do it through a solicitor. Family and friends can also enquire on your behalf, but this should only be done if the intention is to work towards handing yourself in, you do not want to risk landing a friend with a charge for aiding and abetting a known fugitive.
Lastly, do not ignore an outstanding warrant, the future implications can be severe and multiple. Dealing with it yourself puts the ball in your court and gives you the element of control. The alternative could be getting arrested at your place of work or in public. It can affect your ability to renew your license or passport. Staying under the radar of the authorities may seem a viable option, but what happens if your car is stolen, or your house is burgled. You never know when you may need the help of the law yourself.