How to Find Out if Someone Has a Warrant?
Imagine driving to the store with your family and ending up in jail for something as inconsequential as an unpaid parking ticket. It could happen to you – as it does to many people across the country who have open arrest warrants on their records.
If the prospect of getting arrested while running errands on an ordinary day is alarming, so is the number of open arrest warrants in the U.S., which some investigations of public records estimate at two million.
Are Warrants Public Records?
Warrants aren’t just for dangerous criminals, they are public records and part of the process of the legal system.
What Is a Warrant?
A warrant is a way for police and judges to broadcast the need for an individual who is suspected of breaking the law to be brought to justice, like “wanted” posters of the old days.
There are many ways to end up with a warrant for your arrest. That’s why it’s important to find out about warrants before they are executed so that the police aren’t arresting you in front of your family, at your place of business, or when you’re sitting in a restaurant. In addition, many states suspend other privileges, such as professional license renewals, or driver’s license renewals, until the warrant is cleared up.
Many jurisdictions are backing away from the most controversial type of warrant: a no-knock warrant. This sort of unannounced police raid has received increased scrutiny in recent years when they’ve backfired on authorities, including charging into homes when children are having birthday parties, when police have the wrong address, or when the information about evidence is wrong. While these sorts of warrants were intended to capture only the most dangerous sort of criminal (thus justifying the element of surprise) many, including the Council on Criminal Justice, say they’ve been overused and damaged the reputation of law enforcement.
Types of Arrest Warrants Include:
- Bench warrant – this compels police to bring a person before a specific judge, usually to settle court business, such as paying a court-ordered fine, or to complete a legal process like attending a hearing or missing court date;
- Capias – this type of warrant is specific to unfinished court processes, including not showing up for scheduled hearings or complying with the court’s judgment to pay a fine or serve a sentence. Capias warrants can be applied in criminal or civil situations.
- Fugitive or Governor’s warrant – these are executed when a person has fled across state lines.
Warrants are created when a court officer (judge or magistrate) orders their staff to create one as a result of court business (when a person jumps bail, doesn’t show up for a hearing, or doesn’t comply with a judgment), or warrants may be created by police with the assistance (authority) of a court officer. The latter has very specific requirements, including an officer swearing that the evidence and information presented is valid, truthful, and complete.
Can You Go to Jail for a Warrant?
In brief, yes, you can go to jail for an outstanding warrant. A lot is left to the discretion of local authorities, and much depends on the seriousness of the charge on the warrant.
The vast majority of warrants are for simple traffic violations or missed court dates for misdemeanors (that’s why it’s important to read any kind of ticket in its entirety). Just a few hundred thousand outstanding warrants in the country are for violent felony crimes.
Sometimes law enforcement understands that an individual was unaware of an outstanding warrant for not showing up for a hearing on a speeding ticket and will simply remind them that they need to visit the courthouse to clear it.
How to Find Out if Someone Has a Warrant Online for Free?
It is possible to find out about outstanding warrants for free. The most direct way is to contact the courthouse in the jurisdiction where you live, work, or frequently visit. Many have closed-system records that allow you to search for warrants when you’re in the building (not through the internet), so a phone call or email request may be possible.
There are many online search engines like RecordsFinder.com that are able to turn up outstanding warrants through a name search. The benefit of this portal is that it is able to search multiple jurisdictions for public records whereas a courthouse is likely to only have records of warrants for the immediate jurisdiction (a city or county). Searching through RecordsFinder.com can save a lot of time and effort.
How Do You Look Up if Someone Has a Warrant?
- Contact NCIC – the NCIC is the national criminal offender database maintained by the FBI. This is used by police departments to communicate information about outstanding warrants across state lines. Unfortunately it’s not possible for individuals to request information from NCIC as it is only accessible by law enforcement.
- Use public records – public records include arrest and court records. You may be able to look up your court proceeding online and determine if a magistrate or judge ordered you to complete a class, pay a fine, or serve time that you did not follow through on.
- Check government websites – court websites in some jurisdictions allow internet searches for warrants and cases. If there is no specific search for warrants you can find your case file and figure out if you completed the court’s requirements.
- Ask a police officer – police officers can search their databases to determine if there is an active warrant for your arrest, but 1.) they could be compelled to arrest you on the spot if they find one, and 2.) such databases aren’t perfect as a warrant from a different jurisdiction may not show up.
What Should You Do If you Find Out You Have a Warrant?
If you find you have a warrant, settle it immediately. Options include calling an attorney to help you, showing up at the courthouse where it was issued, or calling to find out what is needed to settle it.
What Happens to You When You Have Someone at Your Address Who Has a Warrant Out For Their Arrest?
Depending on the severity of the crime the individual is charged with, an outstanding warrant can be an annoyance, an inconvenience or a serious threat to life and limb. In any case, encourage the person to settle the warrant. There is no statute of limitations on warrants, so waiting it out is not a feasible option.