A statute of limitations is the period during which the state may prosecute an individual for a criminal offense. There is no statute of limitations on an arrest warrant, a document that a judge or magistrate signs to allow law enforcement officers to take a suspect into custody. There is also no statute of limitations on a bench warrant, a court order that a judge issues to law enforcement agencies to find an individual who has not come to court and bring that person before the court.
A judge usually issues a bench warrant because a defendant has failed to appear in a criminal case. A judge can issue a bench warrant against a witness who failed to appear for a proceeding. The proceeding can be a hearing rather than a trial. A judge can issue a bench warrant against a juror who failed to report for jury duty.
Capias Pro Fine Warrants
A judge will issue a type of warrant called a capias pro fine warrant, or capias warrant, when a defendant has failed to pay fines and costs to the court. The court will discharge the defendant from the judgment for the fine and costs when the defendant pays the amount in full and has remained in custody for the time required by law to satisfy the amount. A defendant who is indigent, making an income that qualifies them for the services of a public defender, may request that the court convert the fine and costs to community service hours.
Defining the Statute of Limitations
In Texas, an individual may be arrested for certain offenses within a certain amount of time after the commission of the offense. When the time runs out, the statute of limitations expires. The state may no longer prosecute the individual for the offense. An arrest or bench warrant can remain in force even if the statute of limitations for an offense has expired. The validity of the warrant goes to whether the state collected enough evidence to prosecute the defendant.
Typically, a misdemeanor will have a shorter statute of limitations than a felony. If a defendant becomes a fugitive, the state may choose to ask the court to toll, or pause, the statute of limitations for their offense. This means the statute of limitations will run for longer than usual. The tolling will stop once the person named in the warrant is apprehended or turns themselves in to police officers.
Crimes Without Time Limitations
A number of serious offenses have no statute of limitations. These include murder, manslaughter, sexual assault of a child and aggravated sexual assault under certain conditions, as well as sexual assault if biological matter is collected during the investigation and it has not yet been subjected to forensic DNA testing. The list includes continuous sexual abuse of a young child or individual with a disability, and an offense involving leaving the scene of an accident when the accident resulted in the death of a person. There is also no statute of limitations for human trafficking for forced labor.
Lesser Statutes of Limitations
Texas sets a 10-year statute of limitations from the commission of the date of the offense for theft from an estate by an executor or administrator, theft by a public servant of government property, forgery and arson. The state has a seven-year statute of limitations for money laundering, exploitation of a child, individual with a disability or elderly adult, health care fraud and bigamy.
There is a five-year statute of limitations for theft or robbery, insurance fraud, abandoning a child and injury to an elderly adult or person with a disability that is defined as a felony of the first degree. Texas has a three-year statute of limitations for most other felonies. The statute of limitations for a Class A, Class B or Class C misdemeanor is two years from the date of the commission of the offense.
Limitations Depending on Repetition
The statute of limitations for certain offenses like driving while intoxicated (DWI) and domestic violence varies. This is because the state typically charges the first offense as a misdemeanor. The exception is when there are aggravating circumstances like when the victim suffers severe bodily injury during the incident. The state may charge a second or subsequent act of domestic violence within 12 months of the first offense as a third-degree felony, and a third or subsequent DWI as a third-degree felony charge.
Contents of Warrants of Arrest
The Texas Code of Criminal Procedure provides that an arrest warrant must contain certain elements to be valid. The arrest warrant must be issued in the name of “The State of Texas.” It must state the name of the person whose arrest is ordered, if that is known. If the person’s name is unknown, the arrest warrant must give a reasonably definite description of the individual.
The arrest warrant must provide that the person is accused of an offense against the laws of the state and name the offense. Further, the arrest warrant must be signed by the magistrate or judge or name this person in the body of the warrant or in connection with their signature. If the arrest warrant lacks any of these elements, the defendant’s attorney may ask that the warrant be found invalid. The attorney may argue that the arrest warrant is an insufficient basis upon which to effect an arrest.
Executing a Texas Warrant
A prosecutor or law enforcement officer must promptly execute a warrant, or locate and bring the person named in the warrant into custody within a timely manner. The Texas Penal Code provides that the officer or person executing the warrant shall “without unnecessary delay” take the person, or have them taken, before the magistrate who issued the warrant or before the magistrate named in the warrant. Texas law does not put a time limit on the execution of a warrant.
Typically, if there is a considerable delay in executing a warrant, a state must prove that it made a reasonable effort to locate the person named in the warrant. If the state did not make a reasonable effort, a judge may dismiss the warrant or the case against the person.
Right to a Speedy Trial
The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the defendant in a criminal case a right to a speedy trial. Article I Section 10 of the Texas Constitution further guarantees the accused in a criminal case the right to a speedy and public trial. When the defendant’s right to a speedy trial is violated, the judge may dismiss an arrest or bench warrant, and also dismiss the case against the defendant.
Resolving an Arrest Warrant
An individual can deal with a warrant for a misdemeanor or felony by turning themselves in to a law enforcement agency such as a police department or sheriff’s office. They can also turn themselves in at a jail. When an individual is apprehended by law enforcement officers and brought into custody, this resolves the outstanding warrant.
Options for Bail Bonds
A bail bond is another way to deal with an arrest or bench warrant. The four types of bonds are: property bonds, surety bonds, personal recognizance bonds and attorney bonds. A property bond uses the equity in a home or other piece of real property as collateral. A surety bond is posted by a third-party company, with the defendant paying a percentage of their posted bail amount. The amount is typically around 10 percent.
A personal recognizance bond (PR bond) involves a court agreeing to release a defendant from jail without posting bail through a bond company or the registry of the court. Typically, a defendant must have a not-so-bad criminal record and face a less significant charge to get a PR bond. A defendant released on a PR bond usually has to report to a PR bond office. This office will monitor the defendant before the trial and charge for such services. An attorney bond involves the attorney who is working on the defendant’s case posting the person’s bond.
Warrants and Contempt of Court
When a party who is ordered to come to court for a case fails to appear on the specified court date, the judge can charge the party for contempt of court because they have shown constructive contempt, outside the court’s presence, by impeding the court from resolving the case. The judge may charge the party with contempt on top of issuing a bench warrant. The punishment for contempt of court other than in a justice court or municipal court is up to six months of jail time and a fine up to $500.
The punishment for contempt of a Texas justice court or municipal court is up to three days in jail and a fine up to $100. A justice court, or justice of the peace court, has original jurisdiction in Class C misdemeanor cases, which are for less serious minor offenses. A municipal court has original and exclusive jurisdiction over violations of city ordinances and, within the city limits, concurrent jurisdiction (at the same time) with justice courts over Class C misdemeanor cases.
Warrants and Employment
In Texas, an employer has the right to do a criminal background check with a government-maintained database or hire a third party to do the background check. Federal law, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, requires an employer to provide written notice that they will do a criminal background check. The employer must get written authorization from the applicant to do the check. If the employer rejects the candidate, they must tell them why, give the applicant a copy of the documentation and share the name and address of the company that provided the information.
A background check may not reveal the existence of an arrest, bench or capias pro fine warrant. This may be because the background check is not thorough. It may also be because the defendant has obtained a court to issue an order of nondisclosure regarding one or more criminal offenses. Certain criminal justice and state agencies can obtain information on an applicant’s criminal history even if an order of nondisclosure exists.
Limitations for Civil Cases Differ
The statute of limitations for a civil case, like a personal injury case caused by a criminal act, may be the same as or different from the statute of limitations for the criminal offense. For example, the statute of limitations for a misdemeanor assault charged as a Class A misdemeanor is two years from the date of the offense. The statute of limitations for the victim in the assault to bring a civil suit against the defendant is also two years. In contrast, the statute of limitations for the state to bring charges in a fraud case is seven years, and the statute of limitations for a victim of a fraud to bring a civil suit against the defendant is four years.
Dismissal of Prosecutions
The attorney representing the state has the power to dismiss one or more criminal charges or the entire criminal case at any time. The attorney must file a written statement with the papers in the case setting out the reasons for the dismissal. The court will incorporate these reasons in the judgment of dismissal. The judge presiding in the case must consent to the dismissal of the case. When the state’s attorney dismisses the case, the arrest warrant for the case is no longer needed.
- Texas Code of Criminal Procedure: Chapter 15, Arrest Under Warrant
- Texas Code of Criminal Procedure: Chapter 12, Limitation
- Black's Law Dictionary: Statute of Limitations on Arrest Warrants
- In the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas: Zamorano vs. The State of Texas (2002)
- Texas Penal Code: Chapter 25, Offenses Against the Family
- Texas Penal Code: Chapter 49, Intoxication and Alcoholic Beverage Offenses
- Texas Code of Criminal Procedure: Chapter 43, Execution of Judgment
- Texas Civil Practice and Remedies: Chapter 16, Limitations
- Texas Code of Criminal Procedure: Chapter 32, Dismissing Prosecutions
- Texas Code of Criminal Procedure: Chapter 17, Bail
- Texas Workforce Commission: References and Background Checks
- Texas Government Code: Chapter 21, General Provisions
- Texas Judicial Branch: About Texas Courts
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.