Written by Avvo Staff

How to handle an outstanding warrant

If you think you might have an outstanding warrant for your arrest, it's essential to resolve the matter as quickly as possible. You'll need a criminal defense lawyer to handle your case. However, understanding how arrest warrants work will help you decide on your next steps.

What is an arrest warrant?

An arrest warrant instructs law enforcement officers to arrest a suspect. It's a document that includes the suspect's name and the crimes of which they are suspected. For serious crimes, arrest warrants motivate police officers to find the suspect and arrest them on the spot. Other times, the arrest only occurs if the suspect comes into contact with police by chance.

An arrest warrant is different from a bench warrant. A bench warrant means that the suspect missed a court appearance and, therefore, has become a fugitive. For instance, if you received a traffic citation and forgot about your hearing, the judge might issue a bench warrant when you don't appear. If this happens, contact a lawyer and the court immediately to fix the problem.

"Turning yourself in, without making the cops come and find you, shows the judge that you did not intend to miss the date, or other obligation."

Howard Bailey, Criminal defense lawyer

Arrest warrants vs search warrants

A search warrant gives law enforcement permission to search your home, vehicle, or other property for evidence of a crime. It doesn't give the police the right to arrest you, but if the police find incriminating evidence, they might place you under arrest.

How the warrant is issued

Judges will issue an arrest warrant when they decide they have probable cause to arrest a suspect for a criminal offense. This could happen after law enforcement conducts an investigation and discovers evidence of your guilt. For instance, after a burglary, the police might review surveillance videos and find your likeness on tape. In this case, the judge will issue a warrant for arrest.

Sometimes, after a cooperating witness files a report with the police, the court will issue an arrest warrant for the suspect. For example, if a credible witness names you as the perpetrator of an assault, the court will sign an arrest warrant for you.

An arrest warrant doesn't mean you're heading straight for trial. In many cases, courts issue arrest warrants before a grand jury indicts the suspect. This means that you will have several court appearances. If the grand jury doesn't hand down an indictment or if law enforcement finds contradictory evidence in the course of their investigation, the charges might be dropped well before trial.

How to search for outstanding warrants

You might find out about an outstanding warrant from a number of sources. In many cases, you can search your county's online database for information about any warrants the court might have issued. You can also call the court directly or ask an attorney to investigate your record.

How to take action

If you know that you have an outstanding warrant, a proactive response is best. A criminal defense lawyer can negotiate with the court on your behalf. The results depend on your specific circumstances and the nature of the warrant.

If you ignore an outstanding warrant, you risk arrest at any time. If you're pulled over for speeding, for instance, the police officer will run your name through their computer and discover the warrant. They will likely arrest you immediately, after which you'll have to find a lawyer from jail and ask a friend or family member to post your bond.

However, if you turn yourself in, you are in control of the timing. It's best to get in touch with a lawyer and start the process of clearing the warrant immediately. Your criminal defense lawyer can advise you about the best course of action for your situation.

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