An arrest warrant is an official document that gives police officers authority to arrest the person named on the warrant. This legal document contains the individual’s name and detail of the crime committed. Arrest warrants specify the facts of the case, and shows that the person whose name is on the warrant is the one who committed the crime.
Arrest warrants also contain the date and time they were issued, the city and county where the crime occurred, and the name of the court. In some cases, the warrant will even detail the manner in which the arrest is to take place and the time or hours within which the defendant may be arrested, unless it is a felony offense, as well as the bail that the defendant will have to post.
A police officer obtains a warrant by submitting a written affidavit – a statement given under oath that the information is true and correct – to the magistrate. There are legal penalties for officers who obtain arrest warrants using false assertions. The judge, who is neutral and detached from the investigation, will consider the officer’s experience and training and whether the facts outlined establish just cause for action. Once the facts have been reviewed to the judge’s satisfaction, an arrest warrant will be issued.
It is important to understand that warrants are specific to a person believed to be suspected of a particular crime. If a witness identifies a person who committed a crime as a tall and broad-shouldered male with long hair, and John Doe meets that general description, those officers do not have the authority to arrest John Doe. Only if the arrest warrant contains the name of John Doe, his known aliases, or a specific – not generalized – physical description will officers have the authority to arrest him.
Judges are under no obligation to issue arrest warrants. Just because an officer prepares and submits an affidavit for a warrant does not mean the judge has to sign it. A judge can refuse to sign a warrant if the affidavit does not have enough information to establish probable cause or if there are no witnesses to the case. Once a judge signs it, the arrest warrant orders the police to arrest the individual named on the warrant promptly and to bring that individual to that court. An officer is not required to display the warrant to the defendant at the time of the arrest.
When the defendant appears before a judge, bail is set, or conditions are established for the defendant’s pretrial release. In some cases, bail may not be allowed or may not be posted; in those situations, the defendant is held until a first court appearance.
Just the thought of arrest warrants can trigger a “run and hide instinct,” especially if you are a first-time offender, even if you know you are innocent of the crime for which you have been accused. But running, hiding, avoiding the issue, and waiting for the police to come and arrest you are all the wrong ways to handle this very serious legal situation. It is more traumatic for you and your loved ones to be arrested at work, during a traffic stop, or while at home with your family.
Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays are considered the best days to turn yourself in. Mondays are not good days because officers are dealing with processing two days’ worth of arrests over the weekend. Fridays are not good because rarely will a judge be available at the end of the day. That means your bond may not be processed until the next week, and you will have to spend a few days in jail.
If you choose to turn yourself in, be sure to dress properly and do not bring items that you do not need. While you do not have to wear a dress or a suit and tie, it is good to dress neatly. Jeans, a clean shirt, and sandals are fine; just make sure that you are not dressed in a sloppy, careless manner. Certain articles of clothing will be taken from you if they pose a safety risk in jail. These items can include belts and shoelaces. Be sure to bring glasses and medication, but you may need to discuss medical policies with your county jail before you turn yourself in.
Bring cash or cards for bail, if it is necessary, and bring official photo identification and other necessary documents. Be careful not to bring any prohibited items or anything that will arouse suspicion. Contraband – including small knives or cigarettes – will be confiscated. Cell phones are not allowed, so be sure to write important numbers onto a piece of paper instead.
While it is often better to turn yourself in before officers come and arrest you, be aware that there are consequences of this action. Before you do this, you should speak with your attorney. A criminal defense attorney can help you evaluate the options and advise you on how to proceed.
The easiest way to find out if there is an arrest warrant against you is to call your attorney. Law offices have the resources and experience to find this information in a timely manner.
You can also check with the courts yourself. Remember, warrants are county-specific, so you must check in the county in which the crime occurred. Warrants are registered and filed with the county clerk’s office. The sheriff’s office of the county or the police station in the municipality where the crime occurred is also another good source of information.
There are websites that offer free searches as well, including Governmentregistry.org and searchquarry.com. Under the Freedom of Information Act, any citizen has the right to search police records or warrant information. Court records are public records, which means you can check for warrants on your own, with a few exceptions, and usually for free. All you need to search for an arrest warrant or bench warrant, whether against yourself or someone else, is the full name of the person in question, their state of residence and their age or date of birth. Warrants can be looked up anonymously on online public record websites.
If you suspect that a warrant has been issued for your arrest, it is also a good idea to be mindful of postal mail. Although getting a letter from an attorney is not proof of an outstanding arrest warrant, if you notice that you are suddenly getting quite a few advertisements in the mail from law firms, this could be a sign that there is a warrant out for your arrest. After all, there are law offices that check warrant databases and send letters to attract new clients.
Note: Sometimes, you are not looking to see if there is a warrant for your arrest, but, rather, checking into the background of someone else. For instance, if you are hiring a babysitter or a personal caregiver for an elderly parent, you may want the peace of mind to know that there are not active arrest warrants against the individual you are looking to hire. Or, if you are entering a romantic relationship or a business partnership with another individual, you may want to establish that this person is not wanted by the law. No matter the reason, the process for checking for arrest warrants is the same.