What Is a Governor's Warrant?

A governor’s warrant -- also called an extradition warrant -- starts the extradition process for a person who flees a state to avoid arrest or prosecution. Unlike a search or arrest warrant that a magistrate or judge signs, a governor's warrant can only be issued by the governor or a person appointed to act as a representative. It also can only be issued for the purpose of returning a fugitive who’s been arrested in another state back to the charging state. As an example, a governor’s warrant could be issued to extradite a defendant who skipped bail in Iowa and was arrested in Florida six months later.

As noted by the Ohio State Bar Association, this doesn’t mean the accused won’t eventually face pending charges in the state she's being extradited from. In most cases, once court proceedings conclude, the accused will be returned to the other state to face any pending charges.

Underlying Laws

Article IV, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution gives each state the right to demand that a fugitive be returned to face criminal charges. Although each state also has extradition laws, federal laws always take precedence. In general, the harboring state must honor the demand if

  • The warrant documents are in order
  • The requesting state provides evidence that the accused has been charged with a crime
  • The person named in the warrant and the person the harboring state is holding are the same person
  • The person is a fugitive who crossed state lines after committing a crime

Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations only applies in the charging state and the clock stops running when the accused flees the state to avoid prosecution. If an accused flees within the statute of limitations' time frame, it cannot expire no matter how long the accused remains missing.

A Defendant’s Rights

The U.S. Constitution and Article 37 Section 15A-730 of the Uniform Criminal Extradition Act, which most states have adopted, give a defendant the right to fight a governor’s warrant and try to avoid extradition by filing a writ of habeas corpus. In a habeas corpus hearing, the burden of proof lies with the fugitive. He must prove that the arrest was unlawful and that the harboring state should refuse the extradition request.

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