How to Understand the Return of the Warrant Process

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Because the process for attaining and returning arrest warrants is the type of thing that's typically laid out in state statutes and court codes, it can take a deep dive into complex legalise to even begin understanding the return of warrant process. But in a twist that's both rare and gracious when you're dealing with things that have titles like "Chapter 307: Pardons and Commutation of Sentences," the definition of "return of warrant" is, for the most part, pretty much exactly what it sounds like. It's the reasons for that return that can vary a bit.

What Is a Return of Warrant?

The Legal, Inc., pros at USLegal put the definition of "return of warrant" into the most succinct and straightforward wording possible: "Return of warrant means a return of a warrant for the arrest of a person." But you probably guessed that already, didn't you?

Typically, the warrant is returned by the officer to whom it was given for service. Upon the return of the warrant, it's the officer's responsibility to fully illustrate that the arrest was made within the applicable scope of legal boundaries.

Read More: Felony Arrest Warrant Police Procedures

The Warrant Process

Though the details may vary per jurisdiction, the process of obtaining a warrant for a person's arrest is one that involves a whole lot of routine paperwork. First, a law enforcement officer must file a long-form criminal complaint and a probable cause affidavit – including "who, what, when and where" facts – to support the allegations. This complaint is usually either filed at the courthouse in person or phoned in to the clerk of court, deputy clerk, judge or acting judge. The document is either approved by telephone or signed with a notary public. Arrest warrants aren't needed in the case of most misdemeanors.

The Return of Warrant Process

The term "return of warrant" may apply to a few different legal situations. Oftentimes, the warrant is executed by the issuing officer, and the defendant is arrested. In this case, the officer who filed the warrant returns to the court when the accused is brought to trial and gives notice to the prosecuting attorney.

Likewise, if a convict is pardoned or the convict's punishment is commuted, the officer may return the warrant. Upon filing the returned warrant in the clerk's office of the court in question, the clerk adds a description of the conviction and sentence to the file. If a complaint against the warrant is received, the issuer may return the warrant unexecuted.

In any of these cases, the returned warrant is kept as a publicly accessible record, just like all court records that aren't sealed due to a legally compelling need for confidentiality.

Return of Search Warrants

While the phrase "return of warrant" most commonly refers to arrest warrants, it may also apply to the return of search warrants, as it does in the state of Oregon. In the Beaver State, for example, a search warrant is returned if it is not executed within the time specified on the warrant itself.

As is the case with an arrest warrant, the return is made by the officer to the issuing judge. The return is also made if the search is executed, alongside a signed list of anything seized from the search, as well as the date and time of the search. The judge files the warrant and list as returned, and a publicly accessible record is made.


  • The return of warrant process is the process by which a law officer returns the executed or unexecuted arrest warrant to the court's filing system, though it may also refer to returning search warrants in a similar fashion.

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