You may have heard of a warrant, but just what is it? A warrant is a legal document that is issued by a judge or other court official against an individual in connection with a crime. There are several different types of warrants, including bench warrants, arrest warrants, and search warrants. Let’s briefly examine each:
- Bench warrant: A bench warrant is typically issued by a judge, demanding that an individual appear before the court. Bench warrants can be issued for many reasons, including when someone fails to show up for a scheduled court hearing, to testify in a legal proceeding, or for a traffic violation. Other reasons a bench warrant could be issued include failing to do something the court had ordered, such as following a court order, paying restitution, or participating in court-mandated instructional classes (like a traffic school or DUI education program).
- Arrest warrant: A police department generally begins the process of creating an arrest warrant, which identifies a specific individual to be brought before the court. The general procedure is for the police department to investigate and gather information about a case or person that shows probable cause, actual evidence, and/or eyewitness statements and then take this information to a judge, at which time a judge will decide if an arrest warrant should be issued.
- Search warrant: If an individual is suspected of being involved in a crime, police investigators may request that the court issue a search warrant to allow them to enter a home, place of work or other location to search and retrieve evidence. A search warrant typically specifies what evidence they are seeking to find.
Warrants are scary to the typical individual! Here are answers to three frequently asked questions about warrants:
Q. How serious is a warrant?
All warrants are serious, though there are different levels. An arrest warrant issued for someone suspected in a felony will be treated more seriously by authorities than a bench warrant filed against someone who failed to pay a parking ticket. Regardless of the warrant, a person can be arrested and taken to jail due to an outstanding warrant.
Q. Can I be arrested if a warrant is issued against me?
Yes. You can be actively sought out by law enforcement for arrest, or you can be found “by chance,” say, if you are stopped for a speeding violation and the officer becomes aware of your outstanding warrant as he’s verifying your identity and accessing police records.
Q. Since I didn’t do anything, how could a warrant have been issued against me?
It happens more often than you’d think. One scenario would be if a parking ticket were left on your windshield and it blew away, so you never received the ticket and, therefore, didn’t act on it. When you failed to resolve that ticket, the court would likely have issued a bench warrant in your name. If your address had changed, or you hadn’t updated your address in DMV records, you may not have received notification that a problem existed. Another example is if you were identified in a criminal matter that you have no knowledge of. Authorities could simply be seeking you for questioning or possible testimony in a case.
Warrants are serious, and it is legal territory that you wouldn’t want to navigate yourself. Identifying a qualified criminal defense lawyer should be your first step to help you resolve the issues surrounding your outstanding warrant(s).
If, for example, you got a parking or speeding ticket and failed to resolve it (didn’t pay the fine or show up in court to contest the charge), that is one problem you have. At that point, the court issued a bench warrant for your failure to resolve that issue. Now, you have two legal problems to deal with.
An experienced lawyer knows what to do to get you the help you need:
- Identifying and researching the warrant or warrants issued against you.
- Determining if the warrant was accidentally issued against you, such as if it should have been issued against someone else with the same or similar name.
- Explaining and protecting your legal rights from that point forward.
- Representing you with authorities or in court proceedings.
- Negotiating your bail if you have been arrested or are facing possible arrest.
- Preparing your defense and facilitating that process with your understanding and appropriate involvement.
Whether a bench, arrest, or search warrant, all are serious matters that demand your immediate attention. Seek a qualified lawyer to explain and protect your rights.