An arrest warrant is an order that permits law enforcement officials to detain a person who is suspected of a crime. It can only be issued after the recording of a sworn statement by a victim of the crime, a police officer, or a district attorney. It's usually ordered by a judge, but can also be made by a regional or national legislature. In most places and for most types of crimes, these orders have no statute of limitations and remain open until the person is found and detained.
To issue an arrest warrant, a police officer or prosecutor has to demonstrate probable cause. He or she appears before a judge to present evidence to show why one should be ordered. In many cases, prosecutors and officers wait until they have several pieces of evidence linking a person to a crime before taking this step.
These orders have to contain specific types of information to be considered legal. Though rules vary regionally, most places require them to have a person's name or a clear enough description of him or her that a police officer can be sure of arresting the right person. Also, it will need to have a description of the type of crime committed, how much bail the accused person will have to pay, the place where it was issued, and the judge's name and signature.
Types of Warrants
A felony warrant is issued when a person is being charged with a felony offense, which is a relatively more serious type of crime. Though laws vary by jurisdiction, typical felonies include murders, large-scale thefts, and aggravated assault. Depending on the region, police officers may not even need an arrest warrant to detain someone suspected of this type of crime, even if it wasn't committed in their presence. Anyone who is convicted of a felony will likely have a jail sentence of at least a year.
A misdemeanor warrant may be issued for a less serious criminal offense that carries a penalty of up to 12 months in jail, a fine, or both. Examples of this type of crime include shoplifting, reckless driving, harassment, or prostitution. Unless the crime happens in front of law enforcement officials, they'll need to get an arrest warrant, except for certain crimes like assaulting a firefighter or paramedic, domestic violence, or causing a car accident while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
A judge usually issues a bench warrant when a person fails to follow the rules of a court. It's most often made for people who fail to make a court-ordered appearance, but can also be made more generally for contempt of court. If the police feel there is a possibility that the accused will try to flee before his next court appearance, the judge may choose to detain the person in custody, with or without bail.
An outstanding arrest warrant is a designation that occurs when the police have been unable to make an arrest in a timely manner. Even though police may not actively search for people with outstanding warrants, they remain open indefinitely, and they catch up with most people eventually, even if they move to a different place. A person's driver's license may be flagged, and he or she may be unable to renew a license or get a passport without being arrested. Depending on the severity of the crime and the type of warrant, his or her passport may also be flagged, meaning that he or she could be detained when trying to leave or re-enter a country.
Arrests and Expungement
Once an arrest warrant is issued, police officers have to follow specific rules to detain a person. In most cases, they can arrest someone with a felony or bench warrant in any place, even across state lines in the US. If he or she is found in a different region from where the warrant was issued, the issuing region can request an extradition. The laws are a little different for misdemeanors: in the US, police officers can't arrest a person if he or she is not in public — for instance, if a person is at home — between 10 PM and 6 AM, unless they get a special order allowing them to do so.
In some cases, a person may be able to get these orders expunged, or erased from his or her record. For instance, a judge will often drop a bench warrant if a person makes contact with law enforcement and agrees to come to court. Likewise, a person who is falsely accused of a crime can usually get an arrest warrant expunged if he or she can prove that the police made a mistake in gathering evidence or that his or her identity was stolen.