September 14, 2017

I Didn’t Know I Had a Warrant: What Do I Do Now?

I didn't know I had a warrant

The justice system is tricky. Between loopholes and fine print, an unfortunate truth is that you could be subject to a warrant and not know until the police are at your door. While that is a frightening circumstance, your case is not hopeless. Whether you have yet to be contacted by police or end up in custody, you can clear up the matter.

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Are You Notified When a Warrant is Issued?

In order to issue a warrant, a court must have probable cause to arrest you based on a sworn affidavit or testimony in which you are named. This typically comes from an officer involved with an incident during which you took part, such as a missed court date or based on your proximity to the scene of a crime. Courts have high standards for issuing warrants and won’t send one out unless you have been individually identified and a compelling case for your arrest has been made.

After a warrant is issued, you may or may not be not be notified of it prior to your arrest or appearance in court. A court may try to notify you by sending a letter to your home address. However, if they don’t, this could be due to a large backlog of warrants and limited resources of the jurisdiction that issued your warrant. If you are suspected of a serious crime, such as one involving drugs or violence, you may not be notified of the warrant once it is issued.

How Will I Be Notified of My Warrant?

If your warrant is mailed to you, it will be sent to the address the court has on-file. If this address is incorrect, you may miss the letter and have an outstanding warrant you’re not aware of. In cases where the warrant is for a serious crime, you may not be aware you have one until an officer arrests you. However, even if you don’t know about your warrant, you can still be arrested.

I Didn’t Know I Had a Warrant: Can a Warrant Be Issued Without Notice?

Frankly, the answer is yes. While this does not always happen, warrants can be issued through a magistrate without your or even the police’s knowledge until they receive it. A judge or magistrate may issue warrants at any time given there is enough probable cause to merit one.

Never Notified of Court Date: Can You Have a Warrant Without Being Served?

Yes, though the validity of the warrant depends on the reason you were not served. If your failure to be notified is due to the court order being sent to the wrong address, the court will not excuse your absence. In the eyes of the law, it was your responsibility to update your mailing address. However, human error on the court’s part may occur. Maybe there was a typo or your new address had yet to be updated in their system. If the mistake is due to a fault of the court, you are completely justified to battle the warrant.

Bench Warrants vs Arrest Warrants

A bench warrant is an issue for arrest typically after failure to attend a court date, failure to show for jury duty, or failure to pay child support, but officers are not required to actively search for the person. They are only required to arrest the subject if they find the person while on duty such as after pulling the person over for speeding, an expired inspection sticker, or another traffic violation. Once arrested, the person will be sent before a judge who will decide the consequences for the misdemeanor.

An arrest warrant, on the other hand, calls for police officers to actively seek out the person. A judge will issue this type of warrant if they determine there is probable cause that the person has committed a criminal offense, from misdemeanors like shoplifting to felonies. The decision to issue the warrant is either based on evidence from a police investigation or through a witness’s testimony. Arrest warrants especially will not have advanced notice, because criminals would attempt to flee before arrest.

How to Clear Up a Warrant Without Going to Jail

The first and most logical step when facing a warrant is to hire a lawyer. While you may also check the local warrant directory and contact the court yourself, lawyers are well-versed in how to defend you against them. Sometimes, the solution is as simple as paying off a fine or rescheduling your court date; however, other situations may entail more. It all depends on the exact circumstance and local jurisdiction, so take as many precautions as possible and inform your criminal defense lawyer of your case.

What Happens If I Get Arrested for a Warrant I Didn’t Know I Had?

As most warrants are issued without the subject’s knowledge, your ignorance to its existence won’t be a strong defense. Your best option is, again, to call your lawyer. As mentioned, being unaware of a missed court date, for example, is not excusable under most circumstances. However, if a warrant was issued against you in the case of mistaken identity, you are right to defend yourself. 

Informing your lawyer of your situation is important, as a lawyer’s job entails more than defending you in court; he or she will also keep track of necessary paperwork and remind you of your upcoming court date. Your lawyer can also assist in minimizing your bail. If you don’t already have a lawyer, a criminal defense attorney near you can prove to be a valuable ally going forward.

The startling reality is that warrants are often issued without your notice, and depending on the situation, a simple “I didn’t know” won’t be enough in the eyes of the justice system. However, this does not mean you can’t fight the warrant and avoid arrest. While it may seem frightening to face a warrant and the ensuing court battle, with a good lawyer at your defense, you might escape the matter without more than a fine.