Although it's true that just having a warrant out for your arrest might not affect you immediately, don't let that fool you into thinking that arrest warrants are passive. If you have a warrant with your name on it, you can legally be arrested at any time – taking a jog, driving to work or eating a sandwich at the park on your lunch break – it's all fair game. When you're arrested on an outstanding warrant, you can be tried for the associated criminal offense, too, whether it be a felony or a misdemeanor. In either case, your future self will appreciate the heads up. Fortunately for both the present and future yous, that heads up is usually free.
All About Warrants
To put it simply, a warrant is just an order from a judge that authorizes law enforcement agencies to arrest people on the basis of a crime they have been accused of committing. When a warrant is outstanding, that just means that the person whose name is on that warrant (a criminal warrant lists the name of the person and the charge) has yet to be arrested. You may have a warrant out for your arrest, for example, if you failed to meet a judge's order, failed to complete judicial orders or neglected to show up to a scheduled court appearance.
As long as there's an outstanding warrant for your arrest, the charge on that warrant will not expire, even if the usual statute of limitations on the charge does expire. When there's an outstanding warrant out for your arrest, you have the option to turn yourself in or consult with a criminal lawyer, who can potentially help negotiate a resolution to the warrant.
Checking Warrants for Free
Because they'll be the ones in charge of making the arrest, local law enforcement agencies are where you can check on outstanding warrants, a process that's always free.
Typically, your local police department or sheriff's office maintains a free and current list of outstanding warrants on its official website. Usually, you can search for outstanding warrants anonymously using options such as the first and last name on the warrant, the wanted person's date of birth or the case number (a code used to identify a court case). Sometimes, especially in smaller towns, these sites will simply maintain a full list of outstanding arrest warrants that you can view all at once.
In some instances, smaller law enforcement agencies may not offer this information online. No matter what size town you're in, you can call your local police or sheriff's department to obtain warrant information. Be aware, though, that the police may be able to track the physical address tied to a landline or the billing address attached to your cellphone number.
Likewise, you can check on outstanding warrants by visiting any precinct in-person or asking an officer on the street to run a warrant check on your name. Those latter two options are also convenient ways to turn yourself in.
Read More: How to Search Free Arrest Warrants
The Third-Party Option
In addition to finding out about warrants straight from the source, third-party websites such as SearchQuarry.com and BackgroundChecks.com offer the ability to anonymously search for outstanding warrants. Sites like this feature a few advantages over contacting the local police department, such as the ability to perform a nationwide search of active, extraditable federal and state warrants.
However, while these sites often advertise a free active warrant search or free outstanding warrant search, be warned that the service typically does come at a cost. A free trial or similar promotion can mitigate fees, but otherwise an online warrant search will run you about $15, as of 2019 rates.
Typically, contacting your local police department is the most straightforward – and reliably free – way to find out about outstanding warrants.
- LegalMatch: What Is an Outstanding Warrant?
- The Law Dictionary: Best Way to Run a Free Arrest Warrant Check
- City of Santa Barbara: Police Warrants
- Travis County: Travis County Sheriff: Outstanding Warrants Information
- SearchQuarry.com: Free Arrest Warrant Search
- BackgroundChecks.com: Nationwide Wants and Warrants
As a freelance writer and small business owner with a decade of experience, Dan has contributed legal- and finance-oriented content to diverse sources including Chron, Fortune, Zacks.com, Motley Fool and MSN Money, among others.