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What is a Criminal Warrant?

Nicole Madison
Updated: May 16, 2024

A criminal warrant is a legal document that orders or authorizes a law enforcement officer to perform certain acts related to a criminal case. For example, a criminal warrant may authorize law enforcement officers to arrest a person who has been accused of a crime or search an accused person’s property. Criminal warrants may be issued before a person is aware that he has been accused of a crime or after he has been ordered to appear in court.

Typically, a judge issues a criminal warrant because there is reason to believe the person named on the warrant has committed a criminal act. A warrant provides written information about the case, including the accused person's name and the crime of which he is accused of committing. Usually, criminal warrants also include the name of the judge who issued the warrant and the date on which it was issued. Criminal warrants also detail the exact action a law enforcement officer should take. The format of the warrant and the details included on it vary depending on where the court is located.

An arrest warrant is a type of criminal warrant that instructs a law enforcement officer to arrest the person listed on the warrant. It typically states the crime the person is suspected of committing. In many jurisdictions, it must also state that there is probable cause for believing the accused person committed the crime. In some cases, arrest warrants may also list the amount of bail a judge has set in the criminal case.

A search warrant may be issued to help law enforcement officers investigate a crime. These warrants allow law enforcement officers to search a person, or his private property, for items related to a crime. They also allow law enforcement officers to seize evidence as part of the investigation. For example, a search warrant may allow officers to search a person’s car for a weapon. If found, the officers may seize it along with any other evidence they find important to the criminal investigation.

A bench warrant is another type of warrant a judge may issue in a criminal case. This type of warrant is used to take an accused person into custody for failure to do something required by the court. For example, if a person fails to show up in court when he is ordered to, a judge may issue a bench warrant, allowing law enforcement officers to arrest him and bring him before the judge.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Nicole Madison
By Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a MyLawQuestions writer, where she focuses on topics like homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. Her passion for knowledge is evident in the well-researched and informative articles she authors. As a mother of four, Nicole balances work with quality family time activities such as reading, camping, and beach trips.
Discussion Comments
By aviva — On May 30, 2011

@whitesand – In the U.S. criminal convictions are public notices. Anyone can search databases of public records or contact the court clerk for convictions on another person.

However, there are a few circumstances where a criminal conviction won’t show up in the search. One is a plea bargain on a lesser crime that as long as the accused performs certain conditions, their name will not reveal a criminal conviction.

Hiring an attorney to search public records for you is done at your own discretion.

By whitesand — On May 29, 2011

Are private citizens legally allowed to access these records? Don’t they need permission from the person they’re doing the search on or to hire a lawyer to do the search for them?

By wizup — On May 29, 2011

@goldensky - Companies can search criminal records because they have access to databases that are created by private companies. These private companies will collect their information from court records either in person or by the internet by searching for convictions under public notices from the courts.

It is uncertain how accurate their information is because of how they obtain it and how much time was spent getting it. Many private companies have a hard time matching the data because personal information like social security numbers and birth dates are left out leaving room for mistakes.

By goldensky — On May 26, 2011

I’m searching for a job and most places do a criminal background check these days. Do companies obtain the criminal background information through a private database? In other words if they’re conducting a background check from any old website how do I know for sure that that site has legitimate information and that my name doesn’t match someone who does have a criminal record?

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a MyLawQuestions writer, where she focuses on topics like...
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