A misdemeanor warrant is a written document sanctioned by a court for the purpose of allowing law enforcement officers to arrest a person who has been accused of a relatively minor crime. What constitutes a misdemeanor varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but in general, it is considered a lesser criminal action, such as a traffic violation, petty theft, prostitution, or disorderly conduct. A person who is convicted of a misdemeanor may pay a monetary fine or spend some time in jail. For misdemeanor offenses, jail time is capped at one year in most jurisdictions.
When a misdemeanor warrant is issued, it permits the arrest of a suspect to take place. The process of issuing a warrant typically happens after a law enforcement official produces a police report claiming that a defendant has committed a misdemeanor. The law enforcement officer then submits the report to a prosecutor’s office. The prosecutor is responsible for filing a complaint and seeking a warrant for the defendant’s arrest. Generally, a judge or justice of the peace must sign off on issuing the warrant.
By and large, a warrant will be issued if the prosecution can show probable cause that a misdemeanor has been committed in violation of a criminal law. This essentially requires providing two things. A prosecutor or law enforcement officer must demonstrate both a reasonable belief that a misdemeanor was committed and that the misdemeanor was committed by the accused.
In many jurisdictions, a misdemeanor warrant is not required if a police officer witnesses the criminal act being committed. For instance, if a police offer sees a person drive through a stop sign, he or she can usually arrest that person without a warrant. Criminal warrants are typically required, however, if the offer did not witness the misdemeanor.
A warrant typically does not expire until it has been served on the defendant or until a court approves withdrawing it. Active warrants can remain outstanding if the accused is trying to avoid being arrested or does not have knowledge about the warrant. In some jurisdictions, a warrant may be outstanding simply because law enforcement officials are behind on serving it.
As a general rule, misdemeanor warrants are considered public record, and members of the public can conduct a warrant search on an individual. Conducting a warrant check is easiest if the court, date, and docket number of the warrant is known. Most law enforcement agencies also have procedures in place for confirming whether a person has any outstanding warrants.