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What Is a Felony Warrant?

By Mike Howells
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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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.
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Discussion Comments
By anon341190 — On Jul 09, 2013

I'm a witness to a crime that happened recently. I was stabbed in my back by the accuser and we both live in different counties. I live in Palm beach County, Florida and the accuser lives in Broward County, Florida. The accuser left the scene when the police were called. They took statements from me and also different witnesses. So tell me how long will it take to get a warrant for the accuser's arrest? Any information will help.

By amypollick — On May 24, 2013

@anon335898: Yes, it is a felony to run. That automatically makes you a fugitive and will tack years on to your sentence.

By anon335898 — On May 24, 2013

I have charges filed against me for a misdemeanor in the second degree. I face two years in jail. I'm not really sure why my punishment is so harsh. Maybe because I live in Pennsylvania, which is a commonwealth state. All I did was make some prank calls out of a joke. They took it as harassment. I was wondering if it is a felony to run. The county hates me really bad and wants nothing more than to see me in jail.

By anon335052 — On May 17, 2013

If I have a felony warrant in Colorado, will it show in Florida?

By anon289456 — On Sep 04, 2012

I just found out I had a warrant for my arrest for a felony charge because I got searched and they found an illegal controlled substance in my bag. It wasn't a whole lot, just a small amount. I don't want to turn myself in because I'm trying to find a job and I'm taking classes to get my GED so I can start up on my college.

This is my first charge, and I don't want to go to jail. How does this usually work? My bond is $25,000, and I have no idea how I'll get that.

By bfree — On May 28, 2011

First of all you can check for warrants at your local courthouse or in the county where the warrant was issued. Most court websites have a searchable data base of public records.

You can also find warrants by calling the county clerks office if they don’t have a searchable database. They should be able to direct you from there if you can provide them with enough information.

Now regarding the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony DUI really all depends on what the charges are for. It can become a felony if passengers were involved. If any collision damage was reported or if there were prior DUI charges and death, all constitutes for felony charges.

By Sierra02 — On May 26, 2011

A bench warrant was placed on my cousin for not appearing in court on a DUI arrest. How do I find out if there is an outstanding warrant for him?

Also what is the difference between and a misdemeanor and a felony DUI?

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