An arrest warrant is a legal document that provides law enforcement the power to arrest the person identified in the warrant. An arrest warrant may be issued for a person’s arrest if:
- There is probable cause that a person has committed a crime. Proper arrest orders must adequately specify the person suspected of the crime, identify what crime they are suspected of, and be based upon sworn testimony or an affidavit of an authorized person; or
- The person fails to appear at a required court hearing, i.e., a “bench warrant.” Bench warrants are issued by a judge or court to arrest a person or bring them before the court for failing to appear in court.
Arrest warrants may also be disseminated in connection with the execution of an ongoing crime or investigation.
Suppose there is a warrant out for your arrest. In that case, law enforcement may confine you and place you in their custody. Law enforcement may conduct a search incident to your lawful arrest. Searches incident to a lawful arrest include the arrested person’s immediate body and surroundings in plain view. It is essential to mention that an arrest warrant is separate from a search warrant.
Search warrants authorize law enforcement to examine a specified location to get potential evidence to further a criminal probe. In distinction, arrest warrants only permit officers to arrest you and perform an incidental search. Consequently, if law enforcement asks to perform a more comprehensive search of a place not in their plain view, you have the right to say no.
As can be seen, it is essential to be mindful of whether or not there are any warrants out for your arrest. Regardless, many individuals are unaware that a warrant has been issued for their arrest until they are arrested according to the warrant. Luckily, there are many further options for looking up warrants.
How Does a Police Officer Get a Search Warrant?
Police officers receive search warrants by persuading a neutral and detached magistrate that they have probable cause to think that criminal activity is happening at the place to be searched or that proof of a crime may be found there. Usually, the police deliver the judge or magistrate with facts in the form of written reports under oath, called “affidavits,” which convey either their own observations or those of private residents or police informers. Suppose the magistrate acknowledges that the affidavit demonstrates probable cause to conduct a search. In that circumstance, they will issue a warrant.
The suspect, who may be associated with the place to be searched, is not present when the warrant is administered and cannot challenge the issue of probable cause at that time. Nevertheless, the suspect can later contest the validity of the warrant.
What Can Police Search for and Seize Under a Warrant?
The police can scour only the place defined in a warrant and for only the property that the warrant conveys. They cannot search a home if the warrant identifies the backyard, nor can they search for firearms if the warrant identifies marijuana plants. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that officers can take only those objects listed in the warrant. If police officers come across contraband or proof of a crime that is not listed on the warrant in the course of their search, they can oftentimes take it.
Suppose the warrant establishes a particular individual to be searched. In that case, the police can search only that individual unless they have separate probable cause to search other individuals who happen to be present at the location. Suppose an officer only reasonably suspects that an observer is immersed in illegal activity. In that case, the officer can only confine and interrogate the onlooker and perform a frisk for weapons (but not a full search) if essential for their safety.
Are There Situations Where Search Warrants Aren’t Required?
Many searches happen without warrants. Over time, courts have defined circumstances where a search warrant isn’t required, either because the search is valid or because the Fourth Amendment doesn’t apply due to a lack of a reasonable expectation of privacy.
What Are Consent Searches?
What if the individual in control of the premises willingly and freely consents to the search? If the police restrict their search to whatever the individual consents to, the search will usually be proper. But courts don’t necessarily demand that the police ask for consent before searching every room or object. Courts often find that the initial consent was comprehensive enough to justify the officers’ search so long as the police officer’s understanding of the consent was reasonable.
For instance, if a resident consents to a search of their “home,” a court may decide that a proper understanding of “home” includes rooms, cabinets, lofts, and cellars found within the residence. On the other hand, a valid understanding of “home” may not include cars, backyard storage sheds, separated greenhouses, or any structures or property found outside the home.
How Do I Find Out if I Have a Warrant?
There are multiple ways in which an individual can look up whether or not they have a warrant out for their arrest, other than strolling straight into a police station and asking.
Below is a checklist of ways that you may look up whether or not there is a warrant out for your arrest:
- Local Court Records: The most straightforward way of discerning whether there is a warrant out for your arrest is by searching your local court’s website. Typically, every county website has a searchable public records area where an individual can search by their name and birthdate to determine whether they have a warrant;
- Contact Local Sheriff’s Office: If the county does not have a website with a searchable public records section, you may contact the sheriff’s office over the phone and inquire whether or not there is a warrant out for your arrest. However, you may be questioned over the phone;
- Hire an Attorney: Another way of digging for a warrant is to hire an attorney to search for you. Lawyers have access to databases that are not available to the public. They will be able to supply you with details concerning whether or not you have a warrant for your arrest.
As can be seen, there are multiple options to look up a warrant. However, it is essential first to try and look up a warrant using a local court or police website, as their data is the most up-to-date. Suppose you are given outdated information that does not show any existing warrants, but you do have a warrant for your arrest. In that case, your warrant may become an outstanding warrant.
One of the most common reasons for an outstanding warrant is that the person is not aware of a warrant for their arrest.
Should I Hire an Attorney for Help with a Warrant Look-Up?
As noted above, one of the best options for determining if you have a warrant is to hire a knowledgeable and well-qualified criminal attorney.
An experienced criminal attorney will be able to look up the information for you. Additionally, suppose you do have an arrest warrant. In that case, they will be able to advise you of your best legal course of action for dealing with your arrest warrant.