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Are Warrants Public Records in California?

Yes. Warrants are public records in California. According to Cal. Pen. Code § 1534(a), warrants issued in the state are categorized as judicial records. While the CPRA is inapplicable to warrants and related documents, state statutes provide that executed/returned warrants will become open to the public ten days after their execution. That said, the disclosure of a warrant is also dependent on the type of warrant in question. While bench warrants are subject to the same judicial provisions as court documents, the FOIA allows law enforcement agencies to exercise discretion with respect to the disclosure of arrest warrants.

What is Considered a Warrant in California?

A warrant is a legal document authorizing its bearer (usually law enforcement) to perform an action that would otherwise be unlawful or infringe on a person's rights. In California, this writ is typically issued by a competent authority (a judge or magistrate) to execute the law or administer justice.

There are different kinds of warrants that can be issued by the state courts, each serving a different judicial purpose. The most common ones are arrest, bench, and search warrants. Others include execution warrants, escape warrants, capias warrants, tax warrants, complaint warrants, etc. Thus, individuals may find that they have a warrant out for their arrest and detainment, the search and seizure of their property, or for another reason.

Before the courts in California can release a warrant, there must be "probable cause". That is, the sheriff, police officer, district attorney, or other law enforcement official requiring the warrant must show sufficient grounds (e.g., for suspicion of criminal activity) to a judge or magistrate. Otherwise, the officer may be liable for damages arising from an unauthorized action. For example, an illegal search and seizure of a person's property is a violation of the Fourth Amendment. Warrants are typically held by state law enforcement officials and featured within an individual's California criminal record. However, in insolation, they are not proof of a person’s involvement in criminal activity.

How to Find Out if You Have a Warrant in California

Any individual who suspects or wants to find out if they have an outstanding warrant in California can conduct a California warrant search. Usually, this can be done in three ways:

  • Requesting a criminal background check (also known as criminal history information or record)
  • Searching a local court's website or contacting the court clerk
  • Searching a county sheriff's official website

A person interested in reviewing their criminal history to check for a California warrant can contact the state's Department of Justice (DOJ). The individual (subject of the record) must submit a form and fingerprint images, and pay a $25 processing fee. However, the application form and process vary based on whether the applicant is a California resident or non-resident. Applicants can find instructions on the Office of the Attorney General's website.

On the other hand, inquisitive parties can search the public records database of a California court or sheriff's office to unearth pending warrants. Case in point, the Superior Court of California, County of Santa Clara maintains a Case Info site to aid arrest warrant searches. Also, the Orange County Sheriff's Department offers an arrest warrant search page, where users can find active warrants with a first and last name.

For the easy discovery of a sheriff's official website, the California State Sheriffs' Association publishes a directory containing the names, phone numbers, and website links of the 58 sheriff's offices in the state. Likewise, the California judicial branch offers a Find Your Court tool, which can be used to retrieve the contact information and website link of a local court.

Interested parties may also opt for a more direct method: contact a California police department to ask if a warrant exists - but bear in mind that this may lead to an arrest attempt. Furthermore, they may contact a criminal defense attorney in their locality for assistance.

Records of warrants issued or executed in various jurisdictions are also maintained and by third-party websites. While third-party sites make accessing these records substantially easier, the information available on the sites may vary since they are not government-run sources. To obtain warrant records from a third-party site, the requesting party may be required to provide:

  • The personal information of the alleged suspect
  • Information regarding the issuing officer
  • The location where the warrant was issued.

How Long Does a Warrant Stay Active in California?

The expiration date of a warrant issued in California depends on the type of warrant. Some warrants remain active until the statute of limitations for the perpetrated crime or violation runs out. Some do not expire and follow the named party until recalled by a judge or resolved by the party - for example, a bench warrant or felony arrest warrant. In fact, a bench warrant issued by a California court will remain attached to a person until passing, regardless of if the person changes residence or moves to another country.

Ignoring a warrant or opting to wait it out will not make it go away on its own. The warrant does not mean that the police will actively search for the subject - as sometimes, the individual may not be easily located or the crime committed may be minor. However, it allows law enforcement to take immediate action on any person discovered to have an outstanding warrant. Also, while waiting for the statute of limitations to expire may seem like a smart idea, these writs can easily be reissued in a few minutes.

To avoid being arrested unexpectedly or complications arising during employment, immigration, at the California DMV, or at police checkpoints, it is best to quash a warrant quickly. Individuals can find their active warrants by executing a California warrant search via a court’s website, sheriff’s website, or independent public records site. If a warrant is discovered, a skilled criminal defense attorney can help with the matter. In some cases, the lawyer may be able to dismiss the warrant if the named individual's right to a speedy trial was violated. (This mostly applies when the warrant was not issued for a homicide, sex crime, or other violent crime).

California state law prohibits selected employers from conducting criminal record checks before offering employment to interested persons. While employers may rescind their offer to an applicant based on the severity of their criminal history, said employers are barred from using the personal biodata of applicants (such as their date of birth and/or a driver’s license number) to identify individuals via an electronic search of public criminal indexes or third-party aggregate sites. Ultimately, California - based establishments are solely responsible for scrupulously complying with the state’s background check requirements while using third-party sites such as

How Long Does It Take to Get a Warrant in California?

In California, warrants are usually issued in a matter of hours. However, the prosecuting office will need to establish probable cause or secure a grand jury indictment before the subject is deemed eligible for a warrant.

How Do Search Warrants Work in California?

A California search warrant is a writ signed by a magistrate or judge that allows law enforcement officers to search a person or personal property/things (vehicle, home, place of business, etc.) to find evidence of illegal activity. The warrant also permits the possessor to seize that evidence upon discovery.

Search warrants in California must be issued and executed according to the law (California Penal Code §§1524-1542.5). If an officer fails to observe these regulations, the party named on the warrant can have their charges reduced or dismissed.

California Penal Code §1524 lists the grounds upon which a judge or magistrate may issue a search warrant. Some include:

  • Stolen or embezzled property.
  • If the property was used to perpetrate a crime.
  • When there is an arrest warrant already issued against a person.
  • When the property or thing to be confiscated includes a firearm or other deadly weapon at the scene of a domestic disturbance involving physical assault or a threat to human life. Note that this does not affect warrantless searches permitted by California Penal Code §18250.
  • When the property or thing is evidence of a felony crime
  • When the property is in possession of a person who intends to use it to perpetrate a crime, or someone who may deliver it to another to conceal it or prevent it from being discovered
  • When the property to be seized was used for the sexual exploitation of a minor (child pornography)

In California, search warrants are executed immediately. Per California Penal Code §1534, they have a validity of 10 days, starting from the date that the judge/magistrate signed the warrant. If a search warrant is not executed and returned within this time, it becomes void (it expires). However, as mentioned earlier, these warrants can be reissued if a judge or magistrate believes probable cause still exists. (Here, probable cause means that an officer of the law believes that a search and seizure is reasonable under the circumstances, whether because a crime is taking place or has occurred.)

How Does a California Search Warrant Become Invalid?

Legally, a few situations can make a California search warrant invalid. The major one being that under the Fourth Amendment, government entities are prohibited from conducting unreasonable searches and seizures, and issuing warrants without probable cause. Indeed, per the California Penal Code §1525, "a search warrant cannot be issued but upon probable cause, supported by affidavit, naming or describing the person to be searched or searched for, and particularly describing the property, thing, or things and the place to be searched". Thus, any failure to follow the procedures necessary to obtain a search warrant will render it invalid.

Under California Penal Code §1538.5, searched parties ("defendants") can petition a California court to suppress (throw out) any evidence or return property obtained from an unauthorized search. However, the court may deny the petition if the bearer conducted the search in good faith (believing that the warrant had been issued when in fact it had not due to a judicial error) or executed the search warrant based on an exigent circumstance, e.g., destruction of evidence, escape of a suspect, impending physical harm, etc.

How to Conduct an Active Warrant Search in California

Active warrants are held by local law enforcement agencies in the jurisdiction where the warrant was issued. In California, these warrants are sometimes listed in a dedicated database maintained by the concerned office, and made accessible to interested members of the public. Typically, an active warrant search will require the inquirer to provide the first and last name of the individual being checked for a warrant, and the results provided will include all relevant warrant details including:

  • Their personal/identifying information
  • Warrant ID
  • Court case number
  • Warrant type
  • Offense type
  • Bond information (if applicable)

Free Warrant Search Options in California

In California, a free warrant search can easily be performed using the online resources of local law enforcement agencies. Still, since these offices retain information about warrants issued in their respective judicial districts, the results offered to inquirers may not be comprehensive. Third-party sites offer an extensive and expeditious alternative for performing a warrant search. However, free warrant searches are unlikely to offer the type of reach required to obtain certain types of records. Hence, inquirers are advised to consider paid searches or subscription-based options.

Arrest Warrant in California: Rules of Procedure

Per California Penal Code §836, a law enforcement officer can arrest an individual with or without a warrant in California. Typically, an arrest warrant is required when a crime was not committed in an officer's presence, but the officer has reason to believe ("probable cause") that the individual violated the state's penal code.

In California, an arrest warrant must be issued and signed by a judge or magistrate. Often, this warrant is released after an indictment by a grand jury or after a peace officer or district attorney demonstrates probable cause. Arrest warrants can be based on felony and misdemeanor charges, and per California Penal Code §815, must contain the following information:

  • The defendant's name
  • The alleged offense
  • Date and time of the warrant's issuance
  • City/county where the warrant was issued
  • Title and signature of the issuing authority (judge/magistrate)
  • The name of the issuing court

Without these details, the warrant is not valid in the state.

A California arrest warrant gives the police permission to arrest and detain a suspect at any place, such as a person's home or place of work. However, specific laws regulate when an arrest warrant may be executed, and it all depends on whether the warrant was issued for a felony or misdemeanor. While felony arrest warrants can be performed at any time, misdemeanor arrest warrants are typically executable between 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. unless as stated by California Penal Code §840. That is:

  • If the arrest happens in a public place
  • If the suspect is already in custody
  • If a judge extends the time frame, ordering that it can be served at any time of the day or night

Ordinarily, a person will not find out that they have a warrant issued in their name until arrested unexpectedly or the police come crashing in. There is no law mandating the police to inform a person of an arrest warrant. However, members of the public can carry out warrant searches to find outstanding arrest warrants in California. An individual who is aware of an unresolved warrant is advised to appear in court voluntarily before an arrest attempt.

No matter how a person comes before the court to clear a warrant, the party should not hesitate to get a criminal defense attorney immediately. A lawyer with experience in such matters can help recall the warrant, avoid jail time, and prevent the filing of criminal charges.

Child Support Arrest Warrants in California: What You Need to Know

A child support arrest warrant is a type of arrest warrant issued because of a failure to pay child support. The California courts issue this warrant when a payor or obligor (the parent paying child support) owes one or several child support payments (also known as "arrearages," "arrears," or "back child support"). This warrant may be civil or criminal. It enables a law enforcement officer to take the defaulting parent into custody and bring them to court.

A civil warrant (also known as "capias") may be issued over a failure to obey a child support order, often when the custodial parent files a civil contempt of court for nonpayment of child support and the payor does not attend the court hearing. The payor parent may face jail time (not over a year), a fine, or both.

On the other hand, a criminal warrant is issued when a payor owes a considerable amount of child support, causing a prosecutor to take the case. Here, the parent may be subject to higher fines, a jail sentence over a year, or both.

California Bench Warrants: Issuing and Arrests

A California bench warrant permits the police to arrest a private citizen for noncompliance with a court order or process. Common actions that lead to the issuance of a bench warrant include:

  • Failure to appear in court when mandated
  • Failure to obey a court order
  • Failure to pay a court - ordered fine

A judge may also authorize a bench warrant for other reasons outlined in California Penal Code §978.5, including:

  • Failure to appear as a witness
  • Failure to pay a traffic citation or ticket
  • Failure to pay child or spousal support
  • Failure to appear for a progress report
  • Violation of probationary or post-release terms, etc.

This warrant (also known as a "body attachment") remains active until the subject appears at the issuing court, whether voluntarily or by arrest. Therefore, citizens are advised to run a California warrant search occasionally to make sure they have no pending bench warrants in the state.

Failure to Appear in California: Rules and Consequences

A Failure to Appear (or "FTA") is a type of bench warrant issued when an individual (defendant, witness, juror) does not attend a court hearing on a stipulated date and time. Of the different types of warrants that are issued in California, FTAs are the most common.

A failure to appear warrant is not a criminal charge. As such, a person will not always incur jail time. Depending on the case circumstances (e.g., a person's criminal history), the judge may let the individual off with a warning. However, if the court finds that the nonappearance was intentional, the party can be charged with a misdemeanor or felony. (See California Penal Code Sections 853.7, 1320, and 1320.5). California law defines a "willful failure to appear" as neglecting to show up in court within 14 days of an assigned court date.

Additionally, any person who ignores or flees from an FTA warrant can have their driver's license suspended and face substantial fines when caught by the police.

How Long Do You Have to Stay in Jail for a Warrant for Missing Court in California?

California considers anyone who misses court on purpose to have committed a crime. As such, they may spend time in a county jail facility upon conviction. The length of this jail sentence depends on why the warrant was issued in the first place.

Per California Penal Code §853.7, an individual who violates a written promise to appear is guilty of a misdemeanor. Thus, the party can spend usearch federal court records using the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) service to 6 months in jail. This sentence maximum also applies if the individual had a pending misdemeanor case, was released without bail, and failed to attend the court trial (California Penal Code §1320).

Furthermore, an individual who has a pending felony case, was released on his or her own recognizance (without paying bail), and who misses their felony trial will be charged with a felony and sentenced as follows:

  • A jail sentence not over a year
  • A prison sentence not over 3 years

The court will add any incarceration time incurred because of the default to the defendant's original sentence.

Failure to Pay in California: How It Works

In California, a judge will issue a “Failure to Pay” warrant if a person fails to pay a court - ordered fine and the deadline for the payment expires. Such a person can be charged with a misdemeanor or infraction if the court discovers the negligence to pay was willful. Also, the court can suspend or restrict the defaulter's license for 30 days (California Vehicle Code §13365), impose probation, or add a civil assessment of up to $300 to the initial fine. However, the court will not penalize a financially destitute person.

No-Knock Warrant in California: General Laws

In California, a "No-Knock Warrant" is a search warrant that allows law enforcement officers to enter a person's residence or property without prior notice (ringing a doorbell, calling out the person's name, or knocking).

Usually, this kind of warrant is issued by a judge when an officer believes that alerting an occupant will:

  • Cause evidence to be destroyed,
  • Cause a suspect to flee,
  • Allow the inhabitants to arm themselves against the police,
  • Endanger a peace officer or another party.

How to Perform a Federal Warrant Search

Federal warrants are held in the Warrant Information System (WIN) managed by the US Department of Justice, as well as by US federal courts. However, the WIN cannot be searched by members of the public. Access to the information featured in this system is restricted to authorized law enforcement agencies. Notwithstanding, several privately owned databases aggregate public warrant information into a single resource accessible to the public. These databases can be searched by the full name of the person of interest, and any information pertaining to a warrant will be generated for the user. In most cases, this is a paid service.

Does California DMV Check for Warrants?

The California DMV does not necessarily check for outstanding warrants. Instead, when a California court issues a warrant for an individual’s arrest, the warrant will be subsequently reported to the state DMV. After which, the state DMV may suspend the individual’s license until the warrant is recalled. According to the DMV handout published on the California courts website, failure to appear in court for a traffic ticket is one of the main reasons a court can report an individual license to the state DMV for suspension.