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Arrest Warrant Process

Mid adult woman arrested by a police officer sitting in a police car

You can't believe it has occurred, but you have been arrested. You wrack your brain for how to react, wondering whether you should be sticking up for yourself or if the arresting officer is within her rights.

Just in case, it's important to learn about the legality of arrest warrants. An arrest warrant is an official document that has been signed by a magistrate or a judge. Once it is signed, the arrest warrant authorizes the police to take a person or persons into custody, provided they are named in said warrant.

What Is an Arrest Warrant?

An arrest warrant is the document that a judge or magistrate issues to law enforcement that authorizes them to take a defendant into custody. These warrants are granted after an officer of the law provides suitable evidence and probable cause that the individual named in the warrant committed the crime. If the judge deems that it is unlikely the named person in the affidavit committed the crime based on the evidence presented, he will deny the request for an arrest warrant and the process will begin again for law enforcement. Because of this, it is typical for affidavits to be presented with the reason for probable cause and at least two pieces of provable evidence.

Warrants are the preferred method that U.S. courts use to take a defendant into custody. Originally stipulated in the Fourth amendment, an arrest warrant’s purpose is to protect citizens from unlawful detainment and arrest. The warrant also provides a defendant with detailed information of the charges presented against them.

Arrest warrants are not required to make an arrest, despite being the preferred method. They may contain various stipulations, such as when a person can be arrested (for example, between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.), the crime that a person allegedly committed and the cost for a person to post bail (if the person is allowed to at all). Some defendants, particularly those who are considered a flight risk or those who have failed to appear in court as directed, may not be allowed out on bail. In this instance, the warrants are called “no-bail warrants.”

Police must have enough facts in a case to establish probable cause. This means that an officer needs to, under oath, provide enough information to make it probable that the person named in the warrant committed the crime. Broad descriptions are not adequate for any judge or magistrate to issue a warrant. Eye-witness accounts, video evidence and identifying information such as license plates are considered adequate information for an affidavit to be processed and a warrant issued.

What Is a Criminal Summons?

Courts or government agencies can issue multiple types of summonses. This summons notifies a defendant that she is being sued or that there is an administrative action against her. Most summons will grant the defendant an opportunity to respond before a given court date.

You can use a criminal summons to notify someone that he is facing criminal charges. When that happens, it is considered a “summons in lieu of arrest.” If a criminal summons has been issued, the court date is supplied, and it is up to the defendant to appear as requested. Both felony and misdemeanor charges can be brought against a person and presented in a criminal summons. In the period between being served the summons and the court date, a defendant has the ability to secure the help of an attorney. If he fails to appear in court at the specified time, an arrest warrant can be issued and additional criminal charges can be filed.

Notices to Appear

The criminal summons is different than a citation or “notice to appear.” These can be issued by law enforcement officials at the scene of an incident. The most common reason for receiving a notice to appear is a traffic infraction or an accident. Another situation that might involve a notice to appear is if someone were caught committing a misdemeanor crime.

To handle a citation that has been issued, you could either pay the fine, as in the case of a speeding ticket, or appear before a judge at the specified time to contest the charges. If you have received a citation or notice to appear and fail to either pay the fine or appear in court, you may be charged with “failure to appear.” This is a crime and can result in other criminal proceedings levied against you.

Who Issues Warrants?

Arrest warrants are issued by a magistrate or a judge in a court of law. Essentially, these grant law enforcement the ability to arrest a person suspected of committing a crime. All arrest warrants require law enforcement to present a case to a judge and prove probable cause for an arrest.

Generally, the more evidence that is behind a warrant, the harder it is for someone to argue her way out of it. This is the reason that probable cause is typically presented with at least two forms of physical evidence to assure that the charges “stick.” Arrest warrants are typically issued when a crime is committed out of view of a law enforcement officer. If a crime is committed in full view of law enforcement, no warrant is required for an arrest.

What Is a Warrant Service?

A warrant service is the act of serving a warrant to the defendant. There are a few ways to serve a warrant. A marshal or authorized office can execute a warrant by arresting an individual. In addition, a summons can be served or executed anywhere within the jurisdiction of the United States law. A defendant could be informed of the warrant upon arrest, or a summons could be served separately from the warrant. Serving a warrant per procedure may take one of several paths. A warrant may be served by delivering a copy to the defendant, leaving a copy at a residence or abode with a person over the age of 18 or by mailing a copy to the defendant.

Depending on the nature of the crime, any combination of these methods could be used. Regardless of the method, there must be sufficient evidence that the defendant was made aware of the criminal proceedings against her.

Warrants and Jail Time

The length of time that someone remains in jail for a warrant varies a great deal. The severity of the crime, the defendant’s criminal history and whether the defendant is deemed a flight risk all impact jail time. To lower your chances of remaining in custody until your trial, discuss with a lawyer whether you should turn yourself in.

If you are going to turn yourself in, bring names and numbers of people who will be willing to act as surety for you. Surety is carried out by a person who agrees to supervise you while you are out on bail and awaiting trial. Your surety is supposed to ensure that you go to court as required and do not commit any other crimes while you are on bail.

Police are allowed to take you into custody under the terms of the warrant to your arrest. After taking you into custody, police must either allow you to leave within 24 hours or bring you before a judge, justice of the peace or magistrate for a bail hearing. If your warrant is one that does not allow you to be released on bail, then you will remain in custody until your trial hearing.

About the Author

Danielle Smyth is a writer and content marketer from upstate New York. She holds a Master of Science in Publishing from Pace University. Her experience includes years of work in the insurance, workers compensation, disability, and background investigation fields. In addition to being the content writer and social media manager for Alliance Worldwide Investigative Group, she has written on legal topics for a number of other clients. She owns her own content marketing agency, Wordsmyth Creative Content Marketing (www.wordsmythcontent.com), and she enjoys writing legal articles and blogs for clients in related industries.

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