Does a Warrant Show Up on a Background Check?

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Background checks are not one-size fits all. That's important to keep in mind as you agonize about what dark moments in your history may be revealed to a potential landlord or employer. Since there is no such thing as a standard background check, what shows up depends entirely on who is asking and how deep they want to dig. Will warrants show up? It's very likely.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

Whether a warrant shows up on a background check depends on how deep the person wants to dig. Bench, arrest and civil warrants usually are public records, so if someone is looking in the right place, they will be found.

Types of Warrants

A warrant is a written authorization issued by a court directing law enforcement to arrest someone. Bench warrants are usually issued when you are scheduled to appear in court but don't. When law enforcement has reason to believe that someone committed a crime, an arrest warrant is issued for that person. A civil warrant often happens in family law courts, when a parent fails to pay family support or abide by the parenting plan ordered by the court.

All of these three types of warrants authorize the police to arrest you. Sometimes the police simply wait until you stumble into their hands (for instance, when you are stopped for speeding). They run your license, find out about a bench warrant and bring you in. Other times, as with active arrest warrants, the police make a real effort to track you down.

Available Records

All of these types of warrants can be viewed on certain databases, although different states have different laws in place about who can see what type of record. Whether or not a particular person requesting a background check finds your warrants depends on the questions asked and the information the agency or person being asked are willing to turn over.

For example, if you are being interviewed for a classified position and your potential employer takes security very seriously, you will probably have to ensure a thorough background check, including finger printing. Let's say you are trying to get a job with the FBI. The odds of the background search discovering your warrants is very good. If, on the other hand, you are trying to work at a fast-food restaurant, management probably won't want to invest too much in getting down all the details of your past.

Dealing With Warrants

If you have outstanding warrants, you should be more worried about being arrested at a traffic stop than about whether the warrant will show up in a background check. If you manage to squeak through a background check and get hired, your new boss will be displeased to learn that you were arrested on the way to work.

Talk to an attorney about your options. Often, you can clear a warrant without going to jail.


About the Author

Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson,,, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.