Understanding Criminal Warrants

We’ve seen this played out time and again on police television dramas. The officers approach someone and make a request to search their vehicle, home, person, etc. The person indignantly demands, “Got a warrant?”

In this instance, they’re talking about a warrant to carry out the requested search. There are, however, different types of criminal warrants. We’ll review and explain them here.

What is a Criminal Warrant?

A criminal warrant is a court-issued writ that gives a competent law enforcement officer the authority to infringe on your rights in situations where it would normally be illegal for them to do so.

Below is some information on the different types of criminal warrants and what you may expect if you become the subject of one.

Arrest Warrant

An arrest warrant gives a law enforcement officer the legal authority to arrest the person or people named in the warrant. They typically identify the crime for which the person is to be arrested, and some even specify a time frame in which an arrest may take place as well as how much bail a defendant must post to go free afterwards.

To obtain an arrest warrant, a police officer presents a written affidavit to a magistrate or judge which establishes “probable cause.” Probable Cause is a legal standard that means 1) a crime was committed and 2) there is reason to believe that the person named in the warrant committed it. In the greater scheme of criminal law, it is a very low standard. On occasion, arrest warrants are also issued because a defendant failed to show up for court as ordered.

Search Warrant

A search warrant authorizes the police to search for specific items or materials at a particular location. They are obtained when officers submit an affidavit to the court establishing probable cause that 1) criminal activity is taking place at a particular location or 2) the evidence of the crime can be found there.

It is important to know that the police may only search the exact location specified in the warrant. If the warrant specifies your car, they cannot proceed to your house. If a person is to be searched, the police can only search them unless they have probable cause to search anyone else present. However, officers typically are permitted to also search the immediate area around the premises or person to be searched.

Bench Warrant

Bench warrants are issued in both civil and criminal court proceedings, usually because someone has failed to appear in court as scheduled or been found in contempt for failing to abide by a court order. When you have a bench warrant against you, you may be arrested on sight and placed in custody until your hearing date.

Regardless of what type of warrant has been issued against you, it’s important to know your rights. Do not let the police search your home or car without showing you a warrant first. Except in extenuating circumstances, the police cannot take any actions that are not clearly specified in the warrant, so if they deviate, you may be able to challenge the grounds for your arrest.

Warrants are also not typically part of the public record. That is, you cannot contact a law enforcement agency and ask if there is a warrant for your arrest, or whether a search warrant has been issued for your home or business. The reason for this is because if a person knows about the existence of a warrant, it may provide them with an incentive to flee to avoid arrest, or destroy evidence which would be discovered during a search.

If you believe that you are the subject of a criminal warrant, or  have been subjected to a search conducted pursuant to a warrant, contact the Law Offices of Barry M. Wax today. We will advise you on the best way to handle your situation and safeguard your rights during the entire process.

Law Offices of Barry M. Wax