How Warrants Work in the U.S.

Updated: Dec 17, 2019

Warrants give law enforcement the authority to carry out an action -- often a search or an arrest -- in the name of justice. If you've been served with a warrant, you know it can be scary and confusing. Read on to better understand the process, including how to find outstanding ones.

What Is a Warrant? There are several types, including arrest, bench, search and fugitive warrants. When there's probable cause that a crime has been committed, officers can obtain an arrest warrant for a suspect. If an individual fails to appear in court, a judge can issue a bench warrant. Search warrants authorize law enforcement to look for evidence of a particular crime in a specified location. A fugitive warrant allows one jurisdiction to arrest an individual who's wanted in another jurisdiction.

How the Process Works Judges issue warrants, either at their discretion or upon request by law enforcement. Police must present the court with evidence for probable cause when asking for a search warrant. If the judge determines that the police have submitted enough evidence, a search warrant is granted. Judges can issue a bench warrant for any missed court appearance, whether it's related to a crime, subpoena or summons.

Searching for a Warrant Individuals curious about outstanding warrants can search the online database in their respective counties. You can also contact the court clerk for the jurisdiction in question, or let an attorney look into it for you.

Know Your Rights It's important to know how to act and what your rights are during any police interaction, including when a warrant is being served. Stay calm, and remember that you always have the right to remain silent.


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