All About Warrants

One question we frequently get asked is, “do I have a warrant?” In general, you are in the best position to know whether you have a warrant. Below we describe some of the ways you can get a warrant in NYC. If you look back and any of these scenarios fit your experience, then read on to find out how you go about clearing the warrant!

  1. What is the difference between an arrest warrant, a search warrant, and a bench warrant?

    • An arrest warrant is a warrant issued by a judge allowing for the arrest of a particular person. This can occur in a number of circumstances.
    • A search warrant is a warrant signed by a judge allowing law enforcement officers to search a specific area.
    • A bench warrant is the most common type of warrant, and the focus of this blog post. Of these three types of warrant, this is the one you can most control! A bench warrant is issued by a judge authorizing the arrest of a person when they fail to come to court on a prescribed date. A bench warrant is a type of arrest warrant in that it authorizes any law enforcement officer to arrest a person who has one.
  2. What should I do if I think I have an Arrest Warrant?

    If you think there is an arrest warrant out for your arrest, contact a lawyer immediately to arrange your surrender to the police. Remember not to talk to the police and always ask for a lawyer!

  3. What is a search warrant? What should you do if a police officer comes to your home or office with a search warrant?

    From the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

    To get a search warrant, investigators must go to a neutral and detached magistrate and swear to facts demonstrating that they have probable cause to conduct the search or seizure. There is probable cause to search when a truthful affidavit establishes that evidence of a crime will be probably be found in the particular place to be searched. Police suspicions or hunches aren’t enough — probable cause must be based on actual facts that would lead a reasonable person to believe that the police will find evidence of a crime.

    Additionally, the police have to give the judge details about where they are going to search and what kind of evidence they are searching for. If the judge issues the search warrant, it will only authorize the police to search those particular places for those particular things.

    With this in mind, here are some good responses if the police show up with a search warrant:

    Be conscious of your response! The way you respond emotionally to the police matters. If you lose your cool it is more likely the police will get violent. Even if you think your rights are being violated, try to stay calm. Getting in the officers’ way, insulting them or getting violent is likely to cause more charges to be leveled against you. The police will be fine, but you’ll be stuck dealing with more problems. Try to leave the fight for court.

    Ask to see the warrant. You have a right to examine the warrant. The warrant must tell in detail the places to be searched and the people or things to be seized, and may limit what time of day the police can search. A valid warrant must have a recent date (usually not more than a couple of weeks), the correct address, and a judge’s or magistrate’s signature. If the warrant appears incomplete, indicates a different address, or otherwise seems mistaken, politely point this out to the police.

    Clearly state that you do not consent to the search. The police don’t need your consent if they have a warrant, but clearly saying “I do not consent to this search” will limit them to search only where the warrant authorizes. If possible, have witnesses around when you say it.

    Do not resist, even if you think the search is illegal, or else you may be arrested. Keep your hands where the police can see them, and never touch a police officer. Do not try to leave if the police tell you to stay — a valid warrant gives them the right to detain any people that are on the premises while the search is conducted. You are allowed to observe and take notes of what the officers do, though they may tell you to sit in one place while they are conducting the search.

    Don’t answer any questions. The Fifth Amendment guarantees your right not to answer questions from the police, even if they have a warrant. Remember that anything you say might be used against you later. If they ask you anything other than your name and address, you should tell them “I choose to remain silent, and will not answer any questions without a lawyer.” If you say this, they are legally required to stop asking you questions until you have a lawyer with you.

    Take notes. Write down the police officers’ names and badge numbers, as well as the names and contact information of any witnesses. Write down, as best you can remember, everything that the police say and everything you say to them. Ask if you can watch the search, and if they say yes, write down everything that you see them search and/or seize (you may also try to tape or take pictures, but realize that this may escalate the situation). If it appears they are going beyond what is authorized by the warrant, politely point this out.

    Ask for an inventory. At the conclusion of the search, the police should typically provide an
    inventory of what has been seized; if not, request a copy but do not sign any statement that the inventory is accurate or complete.

    Call a lawyer as soon as possible.

  4. What causes a judge to issue a bench warrant?

    A bench warrant is issued by a judge when a person does not come to court when they are supposed to do so. This can be when a person fails to come to court to pay a fine, prove community service, answer a summons (pink ticket), or come to court on a court date for an open case.

  5. What is the effect of a bench warrant?

    It is hard to over-emphasize the importance of avoiding bench warrants, or voluntarily returning on the warrant if you get one. Here are some of the effects a bench warrant can have:

    • If you are stopped by the police, even if you didn’t do anything, and the police discover that you have an open warrant, they will put you through the system. That means that they will arrest you and you will be in jail for a day or so, until you are brought before a judge.
    • Having bench warrants can affect whether a judge sets bail on your case, and how much bail they set.
    • A bench warrant can affect your criminal case.
  6. How do you find out if you have a warrant?

    The easiest way to find out if you have a warrant is to go to Clerk’s office at the court and ask. Believe it or not, they will not arrest you. They will look it up and tell you if you have a warrant. If you have a warrant, the Clerk will explain the process of returning on the warrant.

    If you have an open case, then call your lawyer and ask. If you don’t know who your lawyer is, then call the office of the public defender organization that has your case, and give them your name.
    Call Just Info, and we can help you through this process!

  7. What do I do if I find out I have a warrant?

    You should go to court to clear your warrant as soon as possible. Generally, you should show up to court early in the morning – no later than 10:00am. You wait in line in the Clerk’s office and they will send you to a court room. You will have to wait for a little while because the court will not be expecting you, so they have to go and get your file and then find a lawyer to represent you.
    Call Just Info, and we can help you through this process!

  8. What happens when you return on a warrant?

    Cases vary, depending on what your situation was before you got your warrant. About the only thing that is for sure is that it is much better to return on your own to face the music than come in wearing handcuffs!

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