What to do when you have a Warrant

So you’ve got a warrant out for your arrest.

What do you do? What are your options?

Well if you’re worried about being arrested, the warrant doesn’t allow or disallow that action. In the State of California, the police can arrest you for committing a crime with or without a warrant. Typically, in order to make an arrest without a warrant, a crime must be committed in the presence of the officer making the arrest. This is the case when an officer arrests someone for committing a DUI. In the case of a warrant, an investigation must take place first. If that investigation yields probable cause, or gives the officer a reason to suspect that a crime was committed, then the officer can ask a judge for a warrant.


The first thing to do if you suspect you have a warrant for your arrest is to contact a criminal law lawyer.

With their help, they can determine if there is a warrant for your arrest, what crime the arrest is alleging, and they may even be able to clear the warrant before you spend any time in jail. To find an arrest warrant on your own, try using a third party amalgamation website. They comb numerous municipal websites and record databases, offering the most comprehensive type of search.

If you discover that there is a warrant with your name on it, and you cannot clear it, here’s everything you need to know about warrants in the state of California.


What is an Arrest Warrant and who can issue one?

An arrest warrant gives law enforcement officers the authority to detain a person they believe has committed a crime outside of their presence. They include the name of the proposed defendant, the crime they committed, the time at which the warrant was issued, the city, county, or municipality where the warrant was issued, the signature of the judge who issued the warrant, and the name of the court where the warrant was created. Without all of this information, the warrant is invalid, and cannot be used.

The only members of the criminal justice department who can issue a warrant are judges, and they proceed one of two ways.

  • They may base their decision on the declaration of an officer of a district attorney. When a member of law enforcement believes you have committed a crime, they will usually attempt to get an arrest warrant for your detainment. The officer must have probable cause, or, a reasonable belief that a crime has taken place. Essentially, the officer will offer their take of the situation to a district attorney. After reviewing any evidence, the district attorney will decide if they believe you should be arrested for further questioning. If they do, they will present the case to a judge, and if the judge agrees that there is probable cause, they will issue an arrest warrant.  

  • They may issue a warrant for your arrest following an indictment of a grand jury. The grand jury consists of 23 members and a designated number of alternates.  A grand jury is occasionally convened to determine to decide if there is enough evidence to convict a person of a crime, and if that evidence would allow a prosecutor to charge that person with the alleged offense. If they do, this develops probably cause, and the judge is likely to issue a warrant.


    >  more infmroation on civil and criminal grand juries

What happens after a warrant is issued?

The most common places that law enforcement officers will attempt to locate you is either at your home, or at your place of business. If the police attempt to arrest you in your home, they will determine if they need to force their way in based on your response when they announce their presence outside your front door. They must also have probable cause that you are in your home. In the event that the officers attempt to arrest someone else in the home, and that person has not committed a crime in their presence, they will also need a search warrant. A search warrant allows the law enforcement officers to search a premises against the will of the owners.

Officers are not obligated to bring an actual copy of the arrest warrant when making an arrest. They must only be able to prove that they are “legally informed about its existence.” This usually occurs during traffic stops, when, after running the driver’s license number, discovers the warrant and makes the arrest. Once arrested, you will be handcuffed and taken to jail, though on occasion you will be taken for summons instead. Summons in lieu of an arrest warrant is when you are ordered to appear in court at a future date. This summons usually arrives in the mail, and is typically ordered when the subject of the warrant has no outstanding warrants and if the alleged crime does not involve violence, or if the alleged crime is a misdemeanor.

Exceptions to the misdemeanor rule are when the misdemeanor is violent, involved drunk driving, or if you are unable to provide evidence of identification.


How do the actions of the police affect the issue of a warrant?

Thousands run free despite warrants
Thousands run free despite warrants
former DA explains contempt of court.

Once an officer receives an arrest warrant, they must attempt to execute it. If they do not, they in turn may be held in contempt of court. The warrant must be executed in a reasonable amount of time. If they do not attempt to arrest you for a long enough period (this period is undefined and based on the discretion of the judge) and you did move residences, change your job, or otherwise attempt to avoid the warrant, you may be entitled to dismissal of the crime based on the Serna Motion. A Serna Motion is a motion to dismiss California misdemeanor or felony charges because the defendant was denied their right to a speedy trial.

Slowly processed warrants are fairly common. In 2018, there are roughly 252,000 outstanding felony warrants according to the office of the state attorney general. Of these, 2,800 are for homicide, 640 are for kidnapping, and 1,800 are for sexual assault suspects. With these numbers in mind, commiting a less serious crime has an increased likelihood of becoming outstanding, meaning that under a Serna Motion, you could have your case dismissed.

In addition to other parameters, the police may only arrest you between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. unless the arrest is made in a public place, if you are already in custody on another matter, or if the judge specifically states on the warrant that the arrest may happen anytime. Once arrested, you must be placed in front of a judge “without unnecessary delay” which usually means you must be placed in front of a judge within 48 hours of your arrest, though holidays and sundays can make this an exception.


What happens when you attempt to leave the county of your arrest warrant?

If you are arrested in a different county than the one that issued the warrant, the arresting officer must inform you of your right to be placed in front of a judge in the county where the warrant was issued. If your warrant does not specify bail, if you don’t post bail, or if you do not demand to appear before a judge in the county where you arrested, you will be transported to the country of the arrest warrant to await a hearing.

If you attempt to leave the state or the country of your arrest warrant, and you are aware of the warrant, you will be given a “fugitive from justice” status. This means you are subject to extradition (forced to return to the country, state, and county of the warrant) if you are arrested in the new location. Essentially, if you run, and are caught, you will still face the original charges, and likely face an enhanced penalty for attempting to flee. If you do not know about your warrant, there is a chance you will not be considered a fugitive.

Website: LAPD’s most wanted fugitives


How bail works.

When issuing a warrant in California, a judge is supposed to set a bail amount on the warrant, providing the offense is one that supports bail. The crimes that do not allow bail are capital offenses that may result in a death penalty, felony offenses that involve violence or are of a sexual nature, or felony offenses where you threatened others with great bodily harm. If you post bail, you are released from custody, though you will still be required to appear before a court of law. Essentially, bail allows you to maintain your freedom provided you intend to return for your trial. In California, the bail bond amount is generally 10 percent of the value of the bail specified on the warrant. This means that if bail is set at $5,000, you can expect to pay $500 in order to purchase a bail bond.

You can post bail in three ways:


What if my arrest warrant is illegal?

It is difficult to have your arrest warrant dismissed outright. However, if you have been wrongly arrested, it is possible to have your charges reduced or dismissed. Whether or not you are able to do this is largely dependant on the amount of evidence you are able to have excluded from the case. One instance that can help your case is when law enforcement officers are guilty of wrongful police conduct. If found guilty of misconduct, your attorney may attempt to have evidence gathered after that misconduct barred from the trial. Instances of this can include when officers go outside the bounds of the warrant during your arrest, such as if they arrest you outside the hours specified on the warrant, or if you were not put in front of a judge in a reasonable amount of time. Note that your case will still not be holistically “thrown out”, but you will gain leverage to negotiate a better plea bargain. According to the California Court of Appeals, of the cases disposed in the 2016/17 fiscal year, 278 were dismissed. For the same year, dismissals made up 3 percent of total appeals, 2 percent of criminal appeals by defendants, 2 percent of criminal appeals by prosecution, and 4 percent of civil appeals.

The only other method to proving your arrest was illegal is under the writ of habeas corpus. If you believe you have been wrongly arrested but are still taken into custody, you may file a writ of habeas corpus in order to present evidence to that fact. If you are successful, you may be entitled to having your case dismissed outright. This is common in cases of mistaken identity.


In closing

Simply put, after finding out if you have a warrant for your arrest, your best course of action is to contact a lawyer in your area. They will have the expertise to help you through your ordeal, and may even be able to help you get out of the warrant altogether. But your first step is to find out if there is a warrant at all, and that’s where third party websites like StateRecords.org can help simplify your search.