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A public warrant is a legal writ issued by a judge that is a matter of public record. Anyone examining public records can view the warrant and the details it contains. By contrast, a sealed warrant is only available to law enforcement and certain authorized personnel. Judges issue a public warrant when there is no compelling reason to conceal any of the information on the document.
Arrest warrants, search warrants, and warrants for execution can all be made public. The public warrant details the name of the subject and the reason for the warrant. In addition to being entered into the public record, the writ is also submitted to law enforcement databases. Law enforcement officers can look up outstanding warrants when they make routine traffic stops and the database will tell them if a person is the subject of any warrants.
The public warrant is considered outstanding until the matter is resolved. Once the warrant has been successfully served, the warrant is no longer considered outstanding and the next step in the legal process can begin. People are entitled to examine warrants issued in their names and can contest a warrant that falsely names them or uses erroneous or false information as grounds for the issuance of the writ. For example, if an illegal search results in arrest warrant, the subject can fight the warrant under the argument that the evidence used to request the writ was not legally obtained.
There are some reasons why a warrant may be sealed. If issuing the warrant publicly would alert a suspect and provide time for him or her to flee or destroy evidence, the warrant may be sealed. Likewise, if a warrant contains confidential or compromising information such as the name of a rape victim or information pertaining to national security, it will be sealed. When a sealed warrant is issued, it will enter law enforcement databases, but not public records.
Members of the public can examine the public records to look up public warrants among many other things. Some people may be concerned about the potential for warrants issued in their names or may be interested in doing a background check on someone to look for a public warrant or other information about someone's criminal history. Public records searches have been made very easy with the assistance of the Internet. Many police departments and courts make their public information available online for free. For a fee, people can also access sites that contain large databases of aggregated public information.