How to Find Out If You Have a Warrant

By: Nathan Chandler  | 

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While you can do some preliminary work in trying to determine if there's a warrant for your arrest, it might be best to consult a lawyer. Witthaya Prasongsin/Getty Images

It's understandable that you might want to know if the cops are looking for you — and more specifically, whether the authorities have issued a warrant for your arrest. Short of strolling into the local police station and asking them about said warrant, there are a number of ways to figure out if there's an active warrant in your name.

Warrants don't just appear out of thin air. A judge issues an arrest warrant (a form authorizing the police to arrest you and present you before the court) upon probable cause. Probable cause means that a law enforcement officer believes that he or she has enough information regarding a crime to make a legitimate arrest [source: FindLaw].

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There are two kinds of warrants: arrest and bench. Arrest warrants occur if you've committed criminal activity and the police actively come looking for you. Bench warrants are issued by judges (from the "bench") when you fail to follow the rules of the court, for instance, you missed a trial date or didn't pay a traffic ticket. In those cases, the police won't come looking for you, but if you're stopped for something like speeding and they find a bench warrant was issued against you in the state's computer, you could be taken to jail [sources: Lawson & Berry, Flanagan & Associates]. In those circumstances, you may not have a clue that a warrant's been issued against you.

Here are some ways you can find out if you have an outstanding warrant [source: Hernandez]:

  • Look up the local records website for your county court or sheriff's department. In populous counties, these sites are updated regularly with accurate information. In small counties and areas with understaffed sheriff's offices, these kinds of online resources may not exist, or they may not be accurate. Also, some kinds of information (like domestic violence cases) are not likely to be public record.
  • If you think there is a federal warrant outstanding, you will have to contact the federal court for your district.
  • Call a local bail bondsman. He may have access to the county database containing active arrest warrants.
  • Hire an attorney. Attorneys have access to databases that are not available to the general public. Of course, hiring an attorney will cost money, but you will get the information you are looking for.
  • You can also check for arrest warrants on public records search sites like Governmentregistry.org. These for-profit, third-party websites ping various records databases, including warrants. Keep in mind that these types of sites don't offer up their data for free. You'll typically have to give a credit card number to get any sort of usable information, and you won't know for sure whether the information is up-to-date.
  • If you're willing to take the chance of being questioned, you can call a police station to check if there's an arrest warrant against you. They may provide warrant information as long as you provide a full name and a date of birth. Another alternative would be to have a friend call on your behalf.

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What to Do if You Have an Outstanding Warrant

If you have the slightest reason to believe that you might have an outstanding arrest warrant, it's generally best to prevent the situation from escalating further. Here's what you should NOT do if a warrant's been issued for your arrest [source: McCollum].

  • Don't try to run from the law. You can bet that airports, train stations and other travel hubs have a list of people with active warrants, to prevent them from fleeing the country.
  • Don't abruptly show up at a police station to surrender yourself.
  • Don't ignore the warrant. It's not going to magically disappear. Arrest warrants don't have expiration dates.
  • Don't automatically assume the worst. Depending on the case, you might be able to avoid jail time if you pay a fine.

Here's what you should do [sources: Spencer, McCollum]:

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  • Once you have the warrant, look at the date the charges were filed, the nature of the charge, and which court it was filed in.
  • Seek expert legal advice. Yes, lawyers cost money, but their familiarity with the legal system could help you navigate the complexities of the court system and minimize your penalties.
  • Your attorney can also help you negotiate the terms of your surrender (if it's necessary) and may get a better deal on your bail amount. He or she may also be able to arrange for a quick arraignment, as opposed to surrendering to police custody, hopefully minimizing any time you have to spend in jail.

Note: This article does not constitute legal advice for your specific situation.

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Originally Published: Feb 6, 2019

Warrant FAQs

Where can I check to see if I have a warrant for free?
Look up the local records website for your county court or sheriff's department. In a small town, though, these records may not be online. You can also try contacting an attorney. Attorneys have access to databases that are not available to the general public
Can you go to jail for a warrant?
If there is an arrest warrant out for you, the police will come looking for you to put in jail. If it is a bench warrant, police won't come looking for you but if you're stopped for another offence (like a traffic violation) and they find you have a bench warrant then you could end up in jail.
What is the difference between a bench warrant and an arrest warrant?
A bench warrant is issues issued to individuals who fail to follow the rules of the court, for instance not showing up to trial. An arrest warrant is issued to someone when enough evidence has been gathered about criminal activity or probable cause has been established.
What happens if you fail to attend court?
Failure to appear in court can result in fines or jail sentences. It is possible to be charged with contempt of court or a separate crime for missing your court hearing and face hefty punishments if convicted.
What is a warrant fee?
A warrant fee covers the administrative costs municipal courts and the police personnel incur when issue issuing warrants for defendants who fail to comply with the conditions of their release agreements.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Aizman Law Firm. "How to Handle an Active Arrest Warrant." (Jan. 29, 2019) https://aizmanlaw.com/arrest-warrants
  • Black's Law Dictionary. "Best Way to Run a Free Arrest Warrant Check." https://thelawdictionary.org/article/best-way-to-run-a-free-arrest-warrant-check/
  • Business Dictionary. "Arrest Warrant." (Jan. 29, 2019) http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/arrest-warrant.html (Jan. 29, 2019)
  • FreeAdvice. "How Do I Find Out if I Have an Outstanding Warrrant?" (Jan. 29, 2019)https://criminal-law.freeadvice.com/criminal-law/arrests_and_searches/outstanding_warrants.htm
  • Herbert Bail Bonds. "The Smart Way to Turn Yourself in for an Arrest Warrant." Aug. 3, 2017. (Jan. 29, 2019) https://herbertbailbonds.com/smart-way-turn-arrest-warrant
  • Hernandez, Karina C. "How to Search For Active Arrest Warrants." Legal Beagle. April 26, 2017. (Jan. 29, 2019) https://legalbeagle.com/4799760-search-active-arrest-warrants.html
  • Judicial Branch of Arizona. "How Can I Find out if I Have a Warrant out for My Arrest from the Superior Court of Arizona in Maricopa County?" (Jan. 29, 2019) https://superiorcourt.maricopa.gov/criminal/warrant-information/
  • McCollum, Greg. "What to do and What Not to do When a Warrant is Issued for Your Arrest." Jan. 15, 2016. (Jan. 29, 2019) https://www.criminallawyermyrtlebeach.com/what-to-do-and-what-not-to-do-when-a-warrant-is-issued-for-your-arrest/
  • Thiessen, Mark. "What to Do If There is a Warrant for Your Arrest." Sep. 14, 2017. (Jan. 31, 2019) https://www.thetexastrialattorney.com/blog/2017/september/what-to-do-if-there-is-a-warrant-for-your-arrest/

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