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A felony warrant is a legal document issued by a judge or magistrate that authorizes law enforcement to arrest an individual suspected of committing a felony, which is a serious crime typically punishable by imprisonment for more than one year. Unlike misdemeanors, felonies encompass crimes such as murder, rape, burglary, and arson. The issuance of a felony warrant is based on probable cause, supported by an affidavit detailing the alleged criminal activity.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2018, U.S. Marshals apprehended more than 90,000 fugitives, a significant number of whom were wanted on felony warrants. The process of issuing a felony warrant involves a careful legal procedure to ensure that the suspect's constitutional rights are not violated. Once issued, the warrant remains active until the individual is apprehended or the court withdraws it.
Navigating the complexities of the legal system can be daunting, especially when it involves serious charges. A felony warrant represents one of the most severe types of legal directives. According to the United States Courts, during the fiscal year 2020, U.S. federal courts issued 125,738 federal arrest warrants. This document, typically authorized by a judge, empowers law enforcement to detain an individual suspected of a felony—a crime considered more serious than a misdemeanor.
To issue a felony warrant, a judge must be persuaded by a signed affidavit detailing the alleged criminal activity and identifying the accused. This process ensures that the rights of the suspect are balanced against the needs of justice, reflecting the gravity of felony charges and the importance of due process.
Of the two broad classifications of crimes, misdemeanors and felonies, felonies are typically more severe. In many cases, however, when a felony is suspected to have been committed — and very often in cases where a law enforcement officer witnesses a crime — a felony warrant is not needed, as an officer can arrest a suspect based on what is known as probable cause. Nevertheless these warrants are routinely issued by courts, especially in cases that involve a suspect actively evading capture.
Other common situations that may call for the use of a felony warrant include when a witness or victim reports a crime after it has occurred. A felony warrant becomes vital, in such cases, to alerting other law enforcement agencies that a suspect is wanted. Warrants do not always result in forcible arrests, however. Individuals who learn there is a warrant made out in their name can contact law enforcement and arrange their own surrender, in an organized and peaceful fashion.
A felony warrant generally does not have a set expiration date, and, rather, remains in effect until an arrest is made or until a countermanding order is issued by the court. Some jurisdictions may consider recalling a warrant if they are contacted by the suspect, and a deal is arranged for a surrender or for a court appearance.
Though what constitutes a felony crime can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, these are generally accepted to include violent crimes, such as rape and murder, as well as serious, non-violent crimes, like auto theft and robbery. Many so-called white collar crimes, which typically involve lying under oath and obstruction of justice, are also considered felonies. Typically a felony is a crime for which the punishment, or sentence, is a year or longer in prison. Examples of crimes that may vary between felony and misdemeanor — depending on the laws of the jurisdiction in which the crime was committed — include illegal drug use, prostitution, and driving under the influence of a controlled substance.
How To Check for Felony Warrants
People who want to learn how to check for felony warrants often have different motives. Depending on the reasons and circumstances for the inquiry, there are a couple of methods worth considering. Criminal records that pertain to a specific individual or case are sometimes best obtained in person. In other instances, however, it is more convenient and efficient to search for a felony warrant using the internet.
Accessing Felony Warrant Records In Person
Performing a felony warrant check can typically be accomplished in person by visiting the court clerk, the office that maintains official court records. The courthouse in the jurisdiction where the crime was committed holds the right of disclosure. This provides it with discretion to publicly distribute outstanding felony warrant records. If copies of the paperwork relative to the warrant are also sought, they may have to be purchased.
Accessing Felony Warrant Records From the Internet
Many counties post active warrants on the internet for informational or public safety purposes. It is important to remember, though, that this only verifies that an arrest warrant existed at the specified date and time of the list's publication. The individual named is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
If a county does not share any online records of active felony warrants, there is also a growing number of background check websites available. Most of these services, however, require a subscription or charge a user fee for full access.
Do Felony Warrants Ever Expire With a Statute of Limitations?
A statute of limitations is a time limit set on the initiation of legal action. Once this period has lapsed, future litigation is no longer possible. Felony warrants, however, do not expire with a statute of limitations. This is primarily to discourage intentional evasion tactics. The charges have already been filed and sufficient evidence has been presented to pursue a case. Unless it is recalled or quashed, the warrant remains active until an arrest is made.
Recalling a Felony Warrant
There are instances when a felony warrant might get recalled, meaning that the arrest order has been reversed. For example, this becomes a possibility once bail has been posted. However, if the charge involves a violation of felony probation, custody becomes mandatory. In that event, posting bail is not available until after the legal proceedings.
Quashing a Felony Warrant
Quashing is a motion that directly challenges the validity of the felony warrant. Grounds to quash a warrant include:
- Falsified affidavit claims submitted by police, whether knowingly or recklessly
- Incomplete or inaccurate description of the person named in the warrant
- Incomplete or inaccurate depiction of time, municipality, or issuing agency
Acquiring Legal Representation
Someone with an outstanding felony warrant would benefit by hiring a criminal defense attorney. The lawyer will work with the court in an attempt to challenge the warrant. If recalling or quashing is not possible, though, the defense will then negotiate lower bail terms. A few other general reasons to invest in defense counsel are:
- Their extensive legal knowledge and experience allow them to examine every option for the client.
- They accept responsibility for the proper filing and submission of all necessary paperwork.
- They have established working relationships with prosecuting attorneys that may lead to more favorable plea bargains.
- They have access to resources that can ultimately save the client time and money.
Are All Felony Warrants Extraditable?
Extradition is the action taken when one jurisdiction formally requests the transport and return of a fugitive from another jurisdiction for criminal prosecution. In the United States Constitution, the Extradition Clause mandates that states honor such demands made by other states. This means that all felony warrants are extraditable. However, this does not mean that all criminals with felony warrants are extradited. For example, someone sought for a non-violent crime might not be pursued to the extent of extradition the same way that a violent fugitive would be. Public safety, crime severity, and costs are all considerations that states make when dealing with extradition cases.
Several legal prerequisites must be met for a fugitive with an active felony warrant to be extradited from one state to another:
- The requesting state's executive authority, or governor, initiates the demand.
- The governor seeking extradition provides a civil officer with the official copy of the indictment that outlines the felony charges.
- The governor of the state housing the wanted individual authenticates the indictment.
- The state seeking extradition has 30 days to receive the transferred prisoner. Failure to do so may result in a custody release.
FAQ on Felony Warrant
What is a felony warrant and how is it issued?
A felony warrant is a legal document issued by a judge or magistrate that authorizes law enforcement to arrest an individual suspected of committing a felony, which is a serious crime typically punishable by imprisonment for more than one year. The warrant is issued based on probable cause, supported by an affidavit detailing the alleged crime. It ensures that the suspect's Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures are protected while allowing the police to take the necessary action.
Can a felony warrant be issued without the suspect knowing?
Yes, a felony warrant can be issued without the suspect's knowledge. This typically happens during the investigation phase when law enforcement has gathered enough evidence to establish probable cause but has not yet made contact with the suspect. The element of surprise can be crucial in preventing the suspect from fleeing or destroying evidence. Once the warrant is issued, the police can proceed with the arrest at any time or place they locate the suspect.
What are the consequences of having a felony warrant issued against you?
Having a felony warrant issued against you can lead to several serious consequences. You can be arrested at any time, which may result in immediate incarceration and the potential for bail to be set high or denied due to the severity of the alleged crime. A felony charge on your record can affect employment opportunities, housing, and civil rights, such as voting and firearm ownership. Moreover, if convicted, you may face a lengthy prison sentence, fines, and a permanent criminal record.
How can someone find out if there is a felony warrant for their arrest?
Individuals can find out if there is a felony warrant for their arrest by checking with local law enforcement agencies, the court clerk in the jurisdiction where the crime was allegedly committed, or through online public record databases. Some jurisdictions may have online warrant search tools available to the public. It's important to note that accessing this information may vary by state and some records might not be available online. Consulting with an attorney is also a prudent step to take if there's a possibility of a warrant.
What should you do if you discover there is a felony warrant for your arrest?
If you discover there is a felony warrant for your arrest, it's advisable to contact a criminal defense attorney immediately to understand your rights and the best course of action. Do not attempt to evade law enforcement, as this can lead to additional charges. An attorney can help you arrange a voluntary surrender, which may be viewed more favorably by the court, and can also assist in preparing for the subsequent legal proceedings, including bail hearings and defense strategies.