Criminal Law

Arrest Warrants

An arrest warrant is a judge's order to police or other law officers to arrest someone and bring him before the judge. Legal rules govern how warrants are issued, making sure there's good reason for the warrant.

Generally, police must have an arrest warrant to make an arrest. The person named in the warrant is accused of an offense based on one or more document types filed with the court. These include indictments, informations, complaints, or documents related to parole or probation violations.

Probable Cause

The Fourth Amendment requires probable cause to arrest someone or search property. It also provides warrants won't be issued without showing probable cause.

Probable cause for a warrant means reasonably trustworthy facts and circumstances would lead a reasonable person to believe there's a fair chance someone committed a crime. Only information known when the warrant is issued counts.A credible and reliable informant can be used, too.

A judicial officer (usually a judge or magistrate) decides if there's probable cause.When a police officer seeks a warrant, he needs to show enough information to allow the judge to make his own decision on probable cause.

Arrest Warrant Form

An arrest warrant must:

  • Describe or name the defendant
  • Describe the offense
  • Command someone's arrest, and direct he be brought before the judge
  • Be signed by the judge

Execution of Arrest Warrant

Executing a warrant means arresting the person.The police show the warrant and arrest the person. Police must tell the person about the warrant if they don't have it. If the arrested person asks, the police must show him the warrant as soon as they can.

Return of Arrest Warrant

Police return the warrant to the judge after executing it. If it's not executed, a government attorney can ask the judge to cancel or recall it. A warrant can still be used to arrest someone if not canceled. When someone knows he's named in an arrest warrant, it's often a good idea to talk to a criminal law attorney to see if it can be canceled.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Is an informant's tip enough for an arrest warrant?
  • Is an arrest warrant valid without a defendant's name?
  • If I'm arrested on a warrant, how long can the police hold me?
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