Public Warrant Information

By Ashley Adams-Mott - Updated April 15, 2017

Arrest warrants are public information and are available for review upon request in most instances. Local laws and information systems determine if you can access the information you need online or whether a visit to your local courthouse or law enforcement office is necessary.

Warrant Basics

Sometimes arrests based on probable cause happen immediately after an incident. In other cases, warrants are issued by the court following an investigation or directly from the judge's bench after the person fails to appear in court. Many municipalities and law enforcement agencies publish lists of persons with outstanding warrants online for review. These contain basic information, such as name, address, key vital statistics and the charges detailed in the warrant. Obtaining a full copy of a warrant that will feature the details leading to the charges typically requires more digging.

The Freedom of Information Act

The federal Freedom of Information Act allows for public access to arrest warrant records for national agencies, such as the FBI. Many states also have robust FOIA laws that apply to state police agencies and local law enforcement offices. FOIA request requirements can range from filing a paper form requesting information to emailing the records custodian at the appropriate agency. An in-person review of original documents may be scheduled, but in many instances, the agency will provide you with a copy of the warrant.

Legal Exceptions to Records Requests

Certain documents pertaining to ongoing investigations may be excluded from public records requests. If a case is ongoing due to other pending arrests, a warrant request could be denied. Other reasons for a legitimate denial include that the record relates to juvenile offenders or it features information about informants. Always ask an agency that denies an initial request to review a warrant to determine if a version with the sensitive information removed can be provided.

The Logistics of Access

Judges sign off on warrants, which makes the local courthouse the most common source for the completed documents. If your local law enforcement agency can't provide you with a copy of a warrant, visit the clerk of court's office in your home county and ask for the criminal division. Also check online as many locations now have online record searches which contain an index of criminal records. A quick search should provide you with a scanned version of the documents you need.

About the Author

Ashley Adams-Mott has 12 years of small business management experience and has covered personal finance, career and small business topics since 2009. She is a full-time government and public safety reporter and holds a BSBA in accounting from Columbia College. Her work has appeared online with USA Today, The Nest, The Motley Fool, and Yahoo! Finance.

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