What is a Capias?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 30 January 2020
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A capias is a legal writ issued by a judge, authorizing law enforcement personnel to arrest an individual and take that person into custody. Also known as an arrest warrant, a capias is an important legal and law enforcement tool. There are a number of different kinds of warrants available for use, and in addition to being executed by law enforcement, such writs can also be carried out by people like bounty hunters.

For a capias to be issued, a judge must be shown compelling evidence to justify an arrest and detention. Deprivation of personal liberty through arrest is deemed a very serious matter in most legal systems and a judge will not issue a warrant if there is no legal justification to do so. Examples of situations when a capias can be written include: if someone fails to appear in court, does not comply with the terms of a court order, or is strongly suspected of having committed a crime.

This word is derived from the Latin for “to seize.” The document should name the subject, clearly state why the warrant is being issued, and indicate the terms of the warrant. It can also include the last known address of the subject, along with identifying information to help law enforcement confirm they have the right person when they execute the warrant. The person executing the warrant must clearly identify the subject before performing the arrest and conveying the person to court or detention.


Once issued, a capias will remain outstanding until the person is brought into custody or the judge cancels the writ. Legal writs will go on the subject's record. If the subject is given a background check in another location, the older legal writ will appear, and law enforcement will be obliged to take action. In cases where people are being taken into custody for a crime and a records search shows an outstanding record for another crime, a negotiation is conducted to determine how the situation should be handled.

When a capias is issued, the subject can choose to surrender to law enforcement, rather than waiting for collection by law enforcement officers. This may be viewed favorably at a later date if the person is convicted of a crime and the judge is deliberating the sentence. People who voluntarily submit for judgment may also be offered plea deals and other arrangements in return for their cooperation with law enforcement.


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Post 4

@matthewc23 - I am not entirely sure but I believe that bounty hunters have separate guidelines that they have to follow in order to successful apprehend the suspect.

I am not entirely sure what the guidelines are, but just because a judge granted them a writ of capias does not mean that they are given the power of the police.

The police are the highest civilian power in apprehending a suspect and a writ of capias given to a bounty hunter only allows them to work with police and gives them more power than they would usually have in apprehending a suspect.

Post 3

I find it very interesting that with a writ of capias the judge allows bounty hunters to go out and try to arrest subjects on their own.

I consider this to be a rare anomaly in the law as it in essence deputizes a person into trying to capture a subject and that subject only. It is somewhat of a one time thing, but it allows the bounty hunter to take whatever reasonable measures they can in order to capture the suspect and arrest them, with the writ of capias being their shield that allows them the power to do so.

What I have to wonder though is if there are restrictions with which the bounty hunters have regarding apprehending

suspects. I know that they usually do not have anywhere near the power that the police have, but a writ of capias gives them quite a bit of power in reality and simply makes them a step down from law enforcement.
Post 2

@TreeMan - You are absolutely correct. If the subject is arrested too early it could easily damage the case for the prosecution and could even give a heads up to the subject that they are going to be arrested soon, so they may leave town.

I have heard stories of officers arresting subjects too early due to suspicion charges and then holding them until they got their writ of capias. If the subject had a good lawyer he could easily charge that the police arrested him unlawfully and too early and this could greatly affect the prosecutions case and may even cause them to lose it.

Post 1

A writ of capias is a very important tool in the legal process and ensures that there are not problems that occur that could affect the trial.

A writ of capias ensures that legally the police can go after and arrest the individual without fear of the arrest not being legal or wrongful.

With a wrongful arrest or an arrest too early it could hamper the case in court for the prosecution against the individual and by obtaining a writ of capias the law is working in conjunction with the police and shows that they are both on the same page in the process of going out and getting the suspect.

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