Legal Dictionary

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Warrant

A warrant is a formal order issued by a court or judge authorizing or directing a law enforcement officer to take a specific action such as an arrest, a search, or a seizure. The most common type of warrants are arrest warrants, bench warrants, and search warrants.

Arrest Warrant

An arrest warrant is an order signed and issued by a judge directing law enforcement officers to arrest and bring to court the person named in the warrant. Prior to issuing an arrest warrant, a police officer, district attorney, or an alleged victim must give a sworn statement under penalty of perjury stating that the person named in the warrant (the accused person) committed a crime. Arrest warrants must be based on probable cause. The judge or magistrate signing the arrest warrant must believe that the crime was committed by the person named in the arrest warrant. Arrest warrants give the arresting officer the authority to enter a home or dwelling in which the suspect lives or place of business as long as there is reason to believe the suspect will be in the home, dwelling, or place of business.

An arrest warrant must contain the following:

  • The defendant's name, if known;
  • The offense charged;
  • The duty of the arresting officer to bring the defendant before the judge or magistrate;
  • Bail amount of the offense;
  • The date and time of issuance;
  • The city or county where it was issued;
  • The name of the judge along with his or her signature;
  • The name of the court.

If you or someone you know suspects that there is an outstanding arrest warrant, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to assist you with the arrest warrant. Contacting a criminal defense attorney earlier rather than later is critical. A seasoned criminal attorney may be able to walk you right into court and recall the arrest warrant, then walk you right out of court without posting bail. You would then be released on your own recognizance (promise to appear in court), thus saving you thousands of dollars on your bail.

Bench Warrant

A bench warrant is a court order issued directly by a judge from the bench (the judge's seat in the courtroom) to a law-enforcement officer to arrest and bring an individual before the court for failing to appear in court for the following reasons:

  • Failure to appear in court as ordered by the judge
  • Failure to appear in court after being given a traffic citation and promising to appear in court
  • Failure to appear in court after being released from custody on his or her promise to appear in court (commonly referred to as "OR" or "Own Recognizance")
  • Failure to appear in court as requested by his or her attorney or the judge
  • Failure to pay fines or restitution as ordered by the court
  • Failure to appear in court for sentencing, or surrender for jail time
  • Failure to obey a court order, such as a Criminal Protective Order or Stay Away Order (usually ordered in domestic violence cases)
  • Failure to appear in court for a hearing or trial
  • Failure to obey a subpoena after being properly served
  • Failure to appear for jury duty, and
  • Failure to appear in court after an Indictment or Information has been filed by the court.

In some cases, a judge may set a bail on the bench warrant or may order that you remain in jail without bail. If you are stopped by the police and there is an outstanding bench warrant, you could be taken to jail. You could go to jail for something as simple as failing to pay a fine or missing a court date for a progress report. That is why it is important to consult with a criminal defense attorney as soon as you learn there is an outstanding bench warrant.

Search Warrant

A written order signed by a judge / magistrate upon a showing of probable cause to believe that items associated with criminal activity will be found at a specific location and directing a law enforcement officer to search for those items in that location and seize them as evidence, if found, and bring them to the judge / magistrate. A search warrant cannot be issued without probable cause supported by an affidavit, naming or describing the places and persons to be searched and specifically describing the property or things to be seized.

The laws and rules governing arrest warrants, bench warrants, and search warrants are specialized and complex. Consulting with a skilled and knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer is important for a favorable resolution of your legal issue.