In legal terms, a warrant is a document, issued by a judge or magistrate, against an individual. It both instructs and authorizes law enforcement officers (LEAs) to carry out certain actions, including arresting a subject, detaining them, seizing their property, or conducting a search of their property.
Quite serious stuff then. Even a warrant for a minor violation is not something you should take lightly. Something as banal as an unpaid speeding ticket could possibly result in you being arrested the next time you are pulled over on a routine traffic stop.
In fact you run the risk of an embarrassing and public arrest every minute that you have a warrant out on you. There are other consequences that may not become apparent for some time, such as the inability to apply for passports and driving licenses, or applying for a loan or mortgage.
If you have reason to suspect a court may have issued a warrant for you, you should take some time to investigate the matter, if only for the peace of mind. There is always the fact that you may need to prepare adequately for any fine you may have to pay, or any court hearings you may face.
Whilst you can check if there are warrants out on you, attempting to do this alone is a far more complicated process than it should be in any civilized society.
It is possible to find out if you have any warrants on you, and it is advisable to do so if you have reason to suspect there may be. Not only will it give you the security of knowing that it has been dealt with, but proactively going out of your way to clear a warrant is always looked upon favorably by a court, and is likely to result in the penalties being more lenient.
However, your course of action will depend upon a number of things. Firstly, how much information do you have? Particularly regarding dates concerning the offense/violation, the county court that might have issued the warrant, and other information that is relevant.
Secondly, it will depend upon what type of warrant has been issued against you. There are different types of warrants, relating to different violations, and different actions that the court wish to be carried out. They also have different jurisdictions, and so carrying out a search will be slightly different for each.
An arrest warrant is a very serious matter. They are issued by a judge against an individual when there is strong probable cause that they have committed a crime. This could come about as a result of a police investigation, or as a result of a witness’s testimony.
This will authorize the police to perform certain actions regarding the individual. As the name suggests, this mainly concerns the arrest of a subject, though such things as search and seizure warrants are also classified as arrest warrants.
The subject of an arrest warrant will be actively pursued by the police or relevant LEA, and residencies, places of work and other places you are known to visit regularly could be regularly searched by the police.
When searching for an arrest warrant, your first option is to check online. Many states, counties and even cities publish up-to-date databases on their official government webpage. If you know the city, county and state that the warrant may have been issued in then that should be where to start.
Obviously, if you find there is a warrant out for your arrest, the best thing to do is to communicate with the police to arrange handing yourself in (this can be done through an attorney). However, simply turning up at the court and checking in person could result in you being arrested on the spot. This could compromise your ability to make preparations and arrange your defense.
Of course, it may prove easier, in the case of arrest warrants, to hire an attorney and request they perform the search; after all, if there is an arrest warrant for you, you are going to be hiring an attorney anyway.
Another possibility is to call the courthouse where the warrant would have been issued and ask them directly. If you are calling to enquire for yourself however, there is the possibility that the police could track you from the phone number, so it is wise to ask a trusted friend or family member to do this for you.
There are also access computers at most courthouses that can provide county/state-wide searches, but again, it is best to have a third party whom you trust do this for you.
A bench warrant differs from an arrest warrant in that it is always a request from a judge to the police (or another LEA). An arrest warrant usually comes about as a result of a police investigation; and the judge then authorizes the subjects arrest. A bench warrant however, is always instigated by a judge or magistrate. Specifics vary, but it is usually considered less serious than an arrest warrant, and bench warrants are usually ‘open’ as opposed to ‘active’ (see below).
Bench warrants can cover matters relating to:
– unpaid speeding tickets or other fines,
– failure to keep up with alimony or child support payments,
– failure to attend a court date,
– failure to attend a court-ordered event (such as drug tests, signing a legal register),
– failure to prove attendance at community service.
Searching for a bench warrant in your name can sometimes be quite difficult. Of course, whilst being arrested on a bench warrant can often just mean paying the fine or speeding ticket (some states even have the option of agreeing to pay before arrest), the sheer bureaucracy of the system can often make the process of searching for bench warrants in your name an arduous task.
That is why it is advisable to approach the search with as much information available to you as possible. Where did the original violation take place? Do you know the specific court house that you suspect has issued a warrant? Could you even estimate the date on which the warrant may have been issued? The more information you have at your disposal, the easier the search will become.
An online search is usually a good place to start, but this is assuming that the state, county or city in which the warrant was issued actually has a database published online. There is actually no legal obligation for any court to make any warrant known to the public, or even the defendant themselves.
It is done on a purely practical basis, but there are many counties and even states that do not offer this service. If you cannot find a link to a warrant search or warrant database on the relevant government website, try a google search for the state/county/city online warrant search.
This also comes with problems, many websites try to pass themselves off as official websites, so you should make sure any link you find ends in ‘.gov’ and not ‘.com’ or ‘.ru’, or some other variant.
If an online warrant search is not available, you could always try searching at a courthouse computer within the same state (at the same courthouse would be ideal),but as with arrest warrants; you run the risk of being arrested there and then. For minor violations however, this is unlikely, and the LEA and court take a favorable view of those attempting to clear an outstanding warrant of their own volition.
It does however, compromise your ability to adequately prepare yourself, whether that be gathering relevant information, preparing your defense, or ensuring you have the funds to pay a fine and it’s charges. Therefor, if you choose this option, it would be advisable to send a trusted family member or friend to search for you. They can even get the warrant clerk to do it for them.
Another option would be to chose a third-party service provider. There are many available, some for a premium fee, and some are free to use. However, the free websites are far from thorough; many will most likely not return anything related to a non-felony charge. And if you are on a felony charge, there is all probability that you already know there is a warrant for you.
A warrant is deemed ‘active’ if is relating to a high-priority case. Serious crimes; those in which significant harm has been done, will result in an active arrest warrant. This is opposed to an ‘open’ warrant, which police will not actively pursue, but will keep on record for the next time they check the subject out.
It goes without saying that the police and LEAs will put significant effort into capturing anybody with an active warrant. It is not a case of avoiding getting pulled over or applying for a driving license, if you have an active warrant the police will raid your house, place of work, look at your phone records, basically do anything they legally can to ensure you are arrested. An active warrant can also be issued if there is significant threat to the public or a particular individual.
Due to the nature of the crimes that result in an active warrant, the police often find themselves with warrants on unidentified individuals. In such a case, the subject is either listed as ‘John Doe’ for a male, or ‘Jane Doe’ for a female.
An active felony warrant can also be handled by federal law enforcement even if the court that issued the warrant is not a federal court. There is no escaping an active felony warrant by crossing state lines.
Searching for active warrants is much easier, because the information is much more readily available. However, if you suspect you have an active warrant out for you, then you need to clarify this as soon as possible, and make all the necessary preparations for handing yourself in within a reasonable time-frame.
Simply walking into a court or sheriffs office to enquire will result in immediate arrest if your suspicions are confirmed. As before, you can ask a trusted friend to check for you, even ring the local court house, but you should ask them to make it clear you are fully cooperating and have the intention of handing yourself in to them in a prompt and timely fashion.
If you are concerned that you may have an active warrant for your arrest, a safe option; albeit a slightly more costly one, would be to hire an attorney immediately. Not only can they check for any warrants with ease, they are able to offer immediate advice, and of course, liaise between yourself and the authorities if it is discovered you do indeed have an active warrant.
An attorney is going to be in a far better position to explain your situation to the police, and explain to you what is going on than a friend or family member.
A federal warrant is one which is issued by a federal court. They are done on behalf of the federal government and are usually issued through the Department of Justice. The jurisdiction of a federal court covers the entirety of the U.S, as does the jurisdiction of any federal LEA (such as FBI, NSA, ATF etc).
This does not mean that your apprehension will not be sought by local or state police if they believe you are in their jurisdiction. A federal warrant, essentially, increases the number of law enforcers actively seeking your arrest by quite a large degree.
A federal warrant is going to be a serious matter whatever it is for, federal laws are for serious offenses, and if you have a federal warrant out on you, unless you live in the Alaskan wilderness: you will be made perfectly aware of the fact very soon.
But how do you go about searching for a federal warrant before you are visited from 3 dozen men in suits and sunglasses? Well, firstly, if you have an attorney, especially one who is familiar with your particular case, then you should contact them immediately.
If the warrant is in relation to a case they are working on, they will be made aware of the warrant as soon as it is issued. If you do not have an attorney but can afford to hire one, it would be wise to appoint one if you strongly suspect you have a federal warrant out for your arrest.
If this is not the case then you can search online yourself, but if you do not have much relevant information, it could take considerably longer.
Firstly, do you know what the offense was? If you suspect that you have broken a state law then it’s safe to assume you are aware what law was broken. This will give you an indication of which Federal LEA could be seeking you out. This will save you the time of going onto every federal LEA’s website (there’s more than you’d think) and searching it’s database. For instance, if you have been robbing banks in Colorado, you can probably give the US Coastguard’s website a miss.
Alternatively, you could contact the department of Justice directly at 202-514-2000
Once through the automated system, tell the operator that you suspect you have a federal warrant out for your arrest. This should obviously only be done if you are willing to be arrested immediately.
If you’d like to find out if you have a warrant, click here.