Let’s say you missed your court date to pay a simple parking fine or a probation hearing. You haven’t heard anything about it for several years now, and are even living in another state.
No harm, no foul, right? Unfortunately, not.
If there’s a warrant for your arrest – even if it’s from another state – its serious business and you can be arrested practically at any time. The sooner you secure good legal representation from a skilled criminal defense attorney, the better off you’ll be.
If you’re concerned you may have a warrant, this article will serve as your guide for how to find out and steps you can take.
What is a Warrant for Arrest?
An arrest warrant with your name is a legal document that gives police officers the power to take you into custody anytime and anywhere.
Arrest warrants and bench warrants are the two types of warrants that can land you in jail.
Usually, an arrest warrant is issued if police suspect you of committing a crime. They’ll file a petition with their local court to have the warrant issued.
A bench warrant is something else entirely. A judge typically issues a bench warrant when you’ve not complied with a court command or have failed to show up in court as requested.
What Are the Penalties for Failing to Appear in Court?
Even if it’s for a hearing or pre-trial conference, a judge expects you to keep your court appointments. Failing to show up can lead to contempt of court charges, jail time, suspension of your driver’s license and fines.
Do Warrants Expire?
No, arrest warrants and bench warrants do not expire. The warrant will remain active until you either die or there’s some other resolution. That could happen if you surrender yourself, charges are dropped, or you’re placed under arrest.
How Will Police Know About My Warrant If I’m in Another State?
As soon a warrant is issued, it’s also entered into the FBI’s searchable database – to which virtually every police officer in the country has access. Many police officers are equipped with technology that scans license plates while driving through neighborhoods.
In August of this year, a Florida man wanted for murder in another state was arrested in Kentucky after being pulled over by police for suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI). His warrant information was entered into the database earlier that same day.
Police in Mayfield, Kentucky arrested a man wanted in Indiana after they identified him and ran his information on their computers.
Will a Warrant Transfer to Another State?
The power of the warrant does not stop at a state line. Whatever actions are taken, though, usually depend upon the offense with which you’re charged.
If you’re facing a bench warrant or the charge is a misdemeanor, there’s a good chance your criminal defense lawyer can work things out here. You may have to pay a fine but it is unlikely things will escalate much beyond that.
However, if you’re facing a felony charge (murder, burglary, rape, arson, stalking, escaping from prison, money laundering, child abuse, etc.), you’ll likely be extradited – or returned – to that state to face the court.
How Can I Find Out if There’s a Warrant in my Name?
With stolen identities being so common, it pays to make sure your name is in good standing with the law.
In addition to the FBI, each state has its own database of warrants that police use for active warrant searches during stops. While there is a host of online warrant searches you can use, the information is often outdated or completely wrong.
The best ways to see if there is a warrant with your name include:
- Hiring an attorney (this is often the best way, as an attorney can help resolve the issues and often minimize any penalties while keeping you out of jail)
- Checking with your online county court or Sheriff’s records
- Contacting a bail bondsman (most can carry out a warrant search), or
- Calling your local police station (only do this if you’re willing to risk being questioned).
Keep in mind that if you call your local police station or a court, they may discover your location based upon the phone you use.
The Key Takeaway
A warrant in your name is serious business, regardless of the charge. The longer you wait to clear your name, the worse things are likely to get.
If you’re facing a bench warrant, your defense attorney may be able to clear your name with the simple paying of a fine. If the charge is a felony, you definitely need the expertise of a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.