How Long Does an Arrest Warrant Stay Active?

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An arrest warrant does not expire. A judge usually dismisses an arrest warrant when the statute of limitations on the charges in the case has run. A judge can issue an arrest warrant in a civil or a criminal case. A party can look up an arrest warrant at a court or law enforcement agency.

Once a judge issues an arrest warrant, the warrant usually remains active. There is no statute of limitations on arrest warrants. As a result, arrest warrants do not expire. Prosecutors and law enforcement officers are required to execute, or serve, a warrant fairly quickly. A state must show that it made a reasonable effort to find the named party. If the state made little to no effort, a judge may dismiss the warrant. An outstanding warrant is a warrant that has not yet been executed.

Consequences of an Active Arrest Warrant

A party with an active arrest warrant can be arrested wherever a law enforcement officer finds her. A police officer can arrest the party at her job, home, on the street or when the party has been pulled over to the side of the road during a traffic stop. An arrest warrant in a state case may typically be executed only within the borders of that state.

Arrest Warrants for Civil Cases

A judge can issue an arrest warrant in a civil case. She usually issues these warrants to get a party to pay a money judgment in divorce, separation or annulment proceedings. A judge may also issue an arrest warrant when a party disobeys a subpoena. In some areas and for some cases, a judge may also issue an arrest warrant in a family court case if the party is likely to leave the court’s jurisdiction.

Parties Without Knowledge of a Warrant

A party can have an active arrest warrant without knowing about it. This is true when he is accused of being an accessory to a crime and in situations of mistaken identity. A party with the same name as the person identified in the warrant should work with a criminal defense attorney who can show the court that the arrested party and the person named in the warrant are different people.

Statute of Limitations for a Crime

A prosecutor may not bring a case against a defendant if the statute of limitations on the crime in the case has expired. Although the arrest warrant associated with the case may still be active, the judge is highly likely to dismiss a warrant when a prosecutor cannot bring the case to trial.

For example, in California, a party convicted of trespass can be punished by imprisonment in county jail for less than a year. The statute of limitations for the offense is one year after the date of the offense. If there was an active arrest warrant for a trespass that occurred three years earlier, the judge would probably dismiss the warrant.

Looking Up an Arrest Warrant

A party can find out if he has an active arrest warrant by calling the clerk of court in which his case was brought or the office of the law enforcement agency likely to execute the arrest warrant. A party can do an online search in the database for the court that issued the warrant. It is risky to rely on the accuracy of an online search, though, because some databases are updated less frequently than others.

How to Clear an Arrest Warrant

A party can clear, or get rid of, an arrest warrant by contacting the law enforcement agency or the court that issued the warrant. She may be able to clear an arrest warrant for a minor offense with payment of a fine. A party should appear before a judge to clear an arrest warrant for a felony offense.

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About the Author

Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.