You can have a warrant attached to you even without committing a serious crime. A warrant can be issued in many serious situations, such as missed court appearances. When you have a warrant, this means there’s probable cause for a judge to allow law enforcement agencies to invade your privacy and rights, which would ordinarily not be condoned.
The main challenge in such situations is that sometimes you don’t even know there is a warrant out for your arrest, so an arrest can happen when you are at work or home. This can be frustrating and embarrassing, so it’s best to deal with warrants ahead of time.
We will share how to find out if you have a warrant, what to do when you have an outstanding warrant, and the different types of warrants.
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How To Find Out If You Have A Warrant
It’s hard to know when there’s a warrant for your arrest unless you make a personal effort to find out. The police will not contact you to prevent you from escaping arrest. However, you may be informed if you have been in preliminary discussions about your charge.
Nonetheless, this is not the case for most people. So, you must be proactive in finding out if you have a warrant. Here are three ways to check.
— Search Online
Searching online is one way to check for a warrant on your own. Warrants are usually county-specific. They are registered and filed with the appropriate district clerk. In some states, they may be filed with the county clerk.
Since they are filed as public records, you may access them for free on your county or district government’s website. Government websites are updated regularly, making them a reliable source for this information.
You will need to determine which county you fall under or where the crime is being investigated. This is usually your home county. Next, get the address for the website. A quick Google search will help you find it.
Here are some steps to follow for a warrant search.
- Log into your district or county clerk’s website.
- If you don’t have an existing account, create one.
- Find Online Services or Search Records and Documents.
- Find the criminal tab and locate the defendant category.
- Configure the input data. (i.e., Party Name, Local/State Case Number, etc.)
- Type in your last and first name, then search.
The system will display if there’s a warrant attached to you and if you have a previous or ongoing case. The system will also indicate if a criminal case has been resolved.
Please keep in mind that each county works differently. The above is a general guideline, but your district may have certain modifications. Nevertheless, you can use this method to search for misdemeanor and felony warrants. For instance, the New York state government doesn’t offer a particular website for public access, but third-party websites operating under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act can provide you with warrant information.
You can check the federal government website if you think you are being charged for a federal offense such as wire fraud.
— Contact The Court Clerk
Alternatively, you can directly call the court clerk in the appropriate district. Even where the district is incorrect, you can access your warrant with the right state information, as all state courts have access to a warrant database for the whole state.
Calling from your personal phone may make it easier for the police to locate and arrest you. So, it’s best to position yourself as a third party requesting information when calling the court clerk’s office.
Ask if there’s a warrant for “your name” in any civil or criminal matter. You will be asked for the person’s name, date of birth, and social security number. If you also know the case number, it would be helpful in the search.
Moreover, while checking out websites may work for most counties and districts, this may not be the case for an understaffed county sheriff’s office. This record may not exist or be poorly updated, so your best option might be to go in for a physical search.
Also, records on crimes like domestic violence cases may not be publicly available, but you can still confirm if there’s a warrant.
— Use A Third-Party Service
The easiest way to know if you have a warrant is to contact a third-party company that provides these services. Although some free websites do this, you’ll probably be able to sort it out faster with paid agents. In Texas, companies most likely search online or place a call to people within the county clerk’s office or state government office who they deal with regularly. In contrast, New York City companies have special access to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center resources.
This record is ordinarily only available to the New York State Police, and Naval Police departments. However, these third-party platforms can be accessed under the Freedom of Information Act.
What To Do If You Have An Outstanding Warrant
If you have an outstanding warrant, it’s best to stay calm. Some actions may aggravate or escalate the offense, so you must be prepared to understand the case against you and defend yourself.
Here are a few things you should do in this situation.
- Stay within the city. Airports, train stations, and other travel hub authorities have an active list of warrants and may arrest you if you attempt to escape.
- Don’t go to a police station yet. While it may seem like the right thing to do, surrendering yourself without confrontation may put you at a disadvantage if you aren’t adequately prepared.
- Carefully read through the warrant instead of ignoring it. Pay attention to the date it was filed, the charges, and the court it was filed in.
- Pay any outstanding fine you owe. Also, if your child support fees are due, pay as soon as possible.
- Seek expert legal advice from a defense lawyer. If you don’t have an attorney, you can find several good law firms online that are close to you and have skilled criminal defense lawyers.
- Disclose all necessary information to your attorney. Your lawyer will devise a plan and negotiate terms with the authorities before surrendering. In many cases, you may get a fine and no jail term.
Types Of Warrants
There are several types of warrants. We will discuss a few below.
— Bench Warrant
A bench warrant is a type of warrant issued when a person fails to make a court appearance. This happens when a person fails to show up and is not sitting on the bench during the court hearing.
Once a warrant is issued, officers have the right to locate the defendant and bring the person in for questioning or to answer for their offense.
— Arrest Warrant
An arrest warrant is a warrant given by a public officer to authorize the arrest of an individual. A judge or magistrate issues it after a police officer has presented a sworn and signed affidavit showing probable cause to believe that a person has committed a specific crime.
In most states, there’s no need for an officer to get an arrest warrant for a felony charge. The warrant is only needed for classes of misdemeanors that did not occur within the officer’s view. Sometimes, a police officer can call the on-duty judge to request a warrant, which will be processed immediately in most cases.
— Child Support Warrant
A child support warrant is a type of warrant issued by a judge in a civil or criminal child support case. It is an order by the court for a police officer to bring a party who has fallen behind on child support payments before the court. This happens if the person also refuses to appear on the court date.
It is issued when people fail to pay child support for an extended period of time, owe a lot of money in support, or can’t be located.
— Search Warrant
A search warrant permits law enforcement agents to search a premise for evidence of a specific crime. This warrant is issued by a competent judge based on an affidavit from a police officer showing probable cause that a piece of evidence exists within the premises.
It is designed to protect people’s reasonable expectation of privacy against unreasonable governmental physical trespass. This is in line with the rights guaranteed in the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
There are also other types of warrants such as an alias warrant, capias/capias pro fine warrant, governor’s warrant, civil capias warrant, fugitive warrant, no-knock warrant, and failure to pay warrant.
How Long Does A Warrant Stay Active?
Arrest warrants generally don’t expire. Instead, a warrant stays active until the court quashes it or the subject has been apprehended. This may be years after the warrant was issued. In New York, a warrant will remain active until the person appears before the court or dies.
In California, an arrest warrant will be active until death, arrest, or recall. However, if the statute of limitations for a misdemeanor charge has passed, the case will be dismissed as time-barred and the warrant will become useless. The statute of limitations for a misdemeanor is one year.
A bench warrant is even more tenacious. Some circumstances exist where there’s a warrant for a person in one state, but they are yet to be arrested because they live in another state. This can go on for years, leaving the person with an outstanding warrant.
Anyone who conducts a background check on you can usually see this warrant. This outstanding warrant can prevent you from getting a job or even lead to your driver’s license suspension. So, when you become aware of a warrant for your arrest, it’s best to seek legal advice immediately.
The Bottom Line
Checking if you have a warrant can save you from distress. You can check your county or state website, call the court clerk in your county, or contact an online third-party company specializing in checking warrants.
It’s best to understand your case and stay calm. Running away from law enforcement officers will make you a fugitive and escalate your case. Instead, contact an attorney who will negotiate your terms of surrender before your arrest. In many cases, this can help you get easier bail, a quick arraignment, or even avoid a jail term.
Also, there are several types of warrants, such as bench, arrest, and search warrants. These warrants do not expire unless a judge recalls them, the person is apprehended, or the person has died.
You should address warrants immediately. You should also check court records to see if there’s a warrant for you as soon as you get into any altercation. This can save you from long-term implications.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why do I have a warrant on my record?
A warrant can be on your record for many reasons. A civil warrant can be on your record because you failed to appear for a court hearing. Some cases also exist where you may be unaware of a criminal court warrant. For example, suppose you have a nasty fight with your partner in one state and leave immediately. If they call the police, a warrant for your arrest will likely be filed.
This will happen if the police find probable cause to arrest you. Again, this may be unknown to you since you’ve left for another state, but it will appear on your record when someone searches.
What is the easiest way to get rid of a warrant?
The easiest way to get rid of a warrant is to hire a defense attorney for the job. Unfortunately, a warrant won’t magically go away until it’s addressed, and you need a defense attorney to make this process easier.
Your lawyer can reach out to the court to negotiate your terms of surrender. They can also work out a quicker arraignment so that you can appear before a judge immediately instead of going into police custody. You may also be able to avoid jail time and get any of the following sentences instead:
- Paying a fine
- Negotiating alternative penalties
- Resolving the issue that caused the judge to issue the warrant
- Appearing in court to answer for an alleged crime
Can I check online to see if I have a warrant for my arrest?
Yes, you can check online to see if you have an outstanding arrest warrant. This method of warrant lookup is fairly easy once you know where you are being investigated. Of course, no two state websites are the same, so the process may differ, but there are some general guidelines.
First, log into the website of the county or district in that area and create a profile. Once you have a profile, check the criminal records, and input your name and other necessary information. You should be able to see your criminal record and if there’s an active warrant for you.
However, there are states where it may be difficult for ordinary citizens to access the records. In such cases, you should check out third-party websites with access to this information, although there most likely will be a fee for this service.
What is the difference between a misdemeanor warrant and a felony warrant?
There’s no real difference between a misdemeanor warrant and a felony warrant beyond the substance of the offense. Misdemeanor warrants are issued for misdemeanors, while felony warrants are issued for felonies.
Both stay active until they are recalled or the subject is apprehended. However, felony warrants easily appear on a person’s record during a background search.
Also, misdemeanor warrants may naturally fall off once the statute of limitations on the offense itself is reached. In California, this is typically one year.