The Difference in Open Warrants and Active Warrants

By Jeff Stein ; Updated June 15, 2017
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The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects Americans, their homes and their property from unreasonable searches, arrests and seizures. But, in contrast, an active or open specific warrant issued by a judge or magistrate instructs and authorizes law enforcement to either arrest someone, search a home or seize property. Under an active warrant, members of law enforcement immediately begin searching for a suspect. An open warrant, on the other hand, is a lower priority warrant on record giving police the authority to act when coming into contact with the perpetrator – sometimes through chance encounters.

Active Warrants

Active warrants are a high priority and of grave concern to law enforcement. These warrants can be issued in response to a child abduction, a kidnapping, a homicide or an armed bank robbery. When a serious crime is committed, a judge or magistrate issues a specific active warrant, which can include a search warrant, a bench warrant or an arrest warrant. Active warrants are issued to a John Doe for an unidentified male, or to a Jane Doe for an unidentified female. The police immediately begin searching for the suspect. When found, he is arrested and taken to jail. According to Govrecords.org, active warrants are also known as “outstanding warrants." Felony active warrants are handled by multiple state and federal law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, who work together to search for the perpetrator.

Open Warrants

Open warrants are low priority warrants for which police may not actively search for the perpetrator. For example, when a law enforcement officer pulls a driver over for a moving violation, the driver’s name is run through a system to check for warrants. If there are any, the driver is immediately arrested. Under an open warrant, a person cannot renew a driver’s license, travel by air or return through the border. Such a person can be unaware of the warrant if, for example, he forgets about a speeding ticket, an unpaid parking ticket or a change of address or if he doesn't realize that a failure to appear in court or for jury duty has resulted in a warrant. According to the Office of the Inspector General, a felony warrant can be left open indefinitely by the United States Marshals Service (USMS) if they do not have the resources to find and arrest a suspect. A warrant is closed when there is a surrender or a physical or directed arrest. A warrant is also considered closed when it is dismissed or when a warrant is returned due to insufficient information.

The Media, Rewards and Active Warrants

Law enforcement will utilize the media to capture a person wanted on a high priority active warrant. At times, the FBI will issue a reward for information leading to the arrest of the perpetrator.

About the Author

Jeff Stein began writing in 2006. He has written for a variety of websites on a variety of topics ranging from aviation to criminal justice, dogs and travel. Stein has a Bachelor of Arts in radio television and film from California State University, Northridge.