If a person suspects they have an outstanding warrant, they can easily find out by doing some quick research. Warrants are public information, and there is more than one way to find them.
The public can search through court records requests, criminal background checks, or local law enforcement and county websites. There are also third-party websites online, but they are not always up to date and may come with a small fee.
What Is a Warrant?
Warrants are court orders or writs that permit law enforcement to carry out acts that would otherwise infringe on an individual’s rights and freedom. In the Volunteer State, magistrates, judges and court clerks typically issue warrants.
As in any state, courts in the state of Tennessee must establish probable cause before they issue a warrant, meaning the law enforcement officer requesting the warrant presents a written statement and an affidavit to the court. When the court examines these documents, it decides if it has adequate grounds to issue the warrant.
How Long Does a Tennessee Warrant Stay Active?
The expiration date on a warrant is set by the court and is based on the type of warrant. Law enforcement then executes the warrant within the time the court sets.
For example, search warrants are executed in a matter of a few days. Some warrants, however, are active until the individual named in the warrant resolves it.
Other warrants stay active until the court recalls them or even after the original offense’s statute of limitations has passed. Law enforcement can execute a warrant when the individual named on it is identified by them; it does not matter how much time has passed.
Tennessee law states that warrants issued for misdemeanors must be executed within a five-year period. Any warrant remaining active after that time is automatically terminated by the court, which then deletes the warrant record.
Search Warrants in Tennessee
A search warrant authorizes law enforcement to search an individual or property. Officers must accompany a search warrant request with a sworn affidavit establishing probable cause or sufficient grounds.
In Tennessee, a court may issue a search warrant if:
- Property has been used when committing a crime or has been intended for use in a criminal activity.
- Property contains contraband, possessions, or fruits of a crime (results of a criminal act).
- Property shows evidence of a criminal act.
- Individual is detained unlawfully.
- Probable cause exists for an individual’s arrest.
Police officers execute search warrants within five days of issuance. A warrant must contain the signature of a judge and a description of the individual or property searched; without these elements, the warrant may not be valid.
Tennessee Arrest Warrants
Law enforcement can detain and arrest an individual named in an arrest warrant, and if an officer sees a crime being committed, they can arrest the individual committing that crime without a warrant.
While an arrest warrant is required for misdemeanor crimes that do not occur within law enforcement's view, an officer can usually arrest a perpetrator without a warrant if they have the necessary probable cause to believe the individual committed a felony.
In Tennessee, a judge or a magistrate usually issues an arrest warrant, but a district attorney can ask a court clerk to issue an arrest warrant. Whoever issues the warrant must examine all available information to determine whether there are sufficient grounds for its issuance. A law enforcement agent requesting an arrest warrant must write a statement establishing probable cause and submit a sworn statement or affidavit along with it.
What Is a Bench Warrant?
Bench warrants legally authorize law enforcement officials to arrest individuals who do not comply with court orders. A bench warrant can be issued for a variety of reasons, including failure to:
- Respond to a court summons.
- Appear as a witness.
- Pay fees or fines of the court.
The offense can be civil or criminal in nature.
Civil bench warrants do not typically carry penalties of jail time, but criminal bench warrants may. An individual who has a defense that is acceptable or reasonable for their failure to comply with a court order can sometimes resolve a warrant without incurring a penalty. In Tennessee, a bench warrant does not expire.
Arrest for Active Warrant
Law enforcement agencies can arrest the individual on the warrant as soon as they identify that individual – this may happen anytime or anywhere. It is important for persons who suspect that they have outstanding warrants to conduct a search for them.
Conducting a Tennessee Warrant Search
Search warrants, bench warrants and criminal warrants are public records in Tennessee. The public can search for warrants via court records requests, criminal background checks, and local police department and county websites.
Interested parties can request criminal background checks via the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), which will contain an individual's arrest history, if one exists. Anyone can complete a criminal background check request online at TBI for $29.
Interested parties can contact a county court clerk in the county of the warrant’s issuance. They can also search public databases, and law enforcement and sheriff's department websites.
For example, Tennessee’s Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office allows the public to search using a name, warrant number and street address.
Third-party Websites for a Warrant Search
Third-party websites may have some information regarding warrants. To use a third-party search site, individuals usually have to provide the name of the individual on the warrant and their last known address, including city, county and state.
Third-party sites are not government-sponsored entities and so they are not always accurate or up to date. They may also require a fee.
- Research as much information as you can on the internet before you begin making phone calls. This will make your search progress more quickly.
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.