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What Is a Misdemeanor Warrant?

By Charity Delich
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Navigating the legal landscape, a misdemeanor warrant stands as a crucial tool for law enforcement, enabling the arrest of individuals charged with less severe infractions. According to the Cato Institute, misdemeanors account for approximately 80% of all arrests and criminal dockets in the United States. These warrants are issued by courts when someone is suspected of a crime that, while not as grave as a felony, still disrupts societal order—think traffic offenses or petty theft. Cornell Law School highlights that penalties for misdemeanors can include fines or up to a year in jail, depending on the jurisdiction (source: https://www.ncsc.org/). Understanding the implications of a misdemeanor warrant is essential for those seeking to navigate the justice system with clarity and preparedness.

When a misdemeanor warrant is issued, it permits the arrest of a suspect to take place. The process of issuing a warrant typically happens after a law enforcement official produces a police report claiming that a defendant has committed a misdemeanor. The law enforcement officer then submits the report to a prosecutor’s office. The prosecutor is responsible for filing a complaint and seeking a warrant for the defendant’s arrest. Generally, a judge or justice of the peace must sign off on issuing the warrant.

By and large, a warrant will be issued if the prosecution can show probable cause that a misdemeanor has been committed in violation of a criminal law. This essentially requires providing two things. A prosecutor or law enforcement officer must demonstrate both a reasonable belief that a misdemeanor was committed and that the misdemeanor was committed by the accused.

In many jurisdictions, a misdemeanor warrant is not required if a police officer witnesses the criminal act being committed. For instance, if a police offer sees a person drive through a stop sign, he or she can usually arrest that person without a warrant. Criminal warrants are typically required, however, if the offer did not witness the misdemeanor.

A warrant typically does not expire until it has been served on the defendant or until a court approves withdrawing it. Active warrants can remain outstanding if the accused is trying to avoid being arrested or does not have knowledge about the warrant. In some jurisdictions, a warrant may be outstanding simply because law enforcement officials are behind on serving it.

As a general rule, misdemeanor warrants are considered public record, and members of the public can conduct a warrant search on an individual. Conducting a warrant check is easiest if the court, date, and docket number of the warrant is known. Most law enforcement agencies also have procedures in place for confirming whether a person has any outstanding warrants.

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.
Discussion Comments
By anon325043 — On Mar 13, 2013

I am from NY and there is a bench warrant for my arrest for not appearing in court about a month ago. I have recently moved to Illinois and am about to get car insurance and a new state ID. I plan to resolve the issue in NY using my lawyer, since the arrest is for a minor offense.

I am wondering if the insurance company or the DMV will be able to see that there is a warrant for my arrest in another state, and will it affect my ability to get an id or be insured? Also, do lawyers ever appear in place of a defendant in the case that the defendant cannot appear to try and resolve the case (i.e., resulting in a payment of a fine and thus revoking the warrant).

By anon318265 — On Feb 06, 2013

What does withdraw capias mean, exactly?

By anon316309 — On Jan 28, 2013

I committed assault while trying to pull a guy out of his vehicle and I didn't get arrested when the cops came. Will a warrant be issued if it's possible on tap?

By anon307462 — On Dec 05, 2012

I was arrested for prostitution in California. I was booked the same night and released with a notice to appear. However, I don't live in California. I live in New York.

I know I may be issued a warrant. How can I handle this matter without getting arrested? Can I hire an attorney to help me sort that out in California? What is the best advice from you?

By anon305200 — On Nov 25, 2012

I'm 38 year old Canadian. When I was 21 (17 years ago), I got a ticket for speeding, and the trooper did not make me pay it on the spot. I ended up meeting some local to my area cops who informed me that I wouldn't have to pay it and not to worry unless I wanted to move there, which I don't.

However, in my early 30's. I got a notice at my old residence that just happens to still know me, that there is a bench warrant out for me. I'm unsure how to deal with this, or even to know if 17 years later if it still applies, but I do like to visit Florida from time to time. I have not had an issue so far going there, but I have never had another ticket either.

Now that I have children I'm worried and need to deal with this issue so I can relax on trips with them. Is this still a worry? If so, how do I go about dealing with it, and does interest accumulate?

By amypollick — On Aug 21, 2012

@anon286411: You're probably not going to want to enter the U.S. right now. You could get flagged at the border, and probably sent back into Canada, or more likely, arrested and extradited back to New Mexico. I think, once you have a failure to appear warrant, it becomes more serious, because that's what your warrant is for -- not the fake ID.

My advice would be to get an attorney and have him or her contact the District Attorney in Albuquerque and see if a deal can be worked out, where you would sign a guilty plea, pay a fine and get it settled. That's much better than having a bench warrant served on you.

You need an attorney's advice, and preferably, one who is familiar with U.S. law.

By anon286411 — On Aug 20, 2012

I am from Canada but was visiting Albuquerque, NM. I was under 21 but using a fake ID. I was caught by police, and got a court date but left and went back to Canada before I could attend and missed it, so I now have a warrant out.

My question is: Would I be able to enter the States now, or will I be stopped at customs due to my warrant?

I also do not know how to deal with the matter, as I live in Canada, am unsure if I can even enter the States, and don't really have the money to go to Albuquerque and deal with it, whatever that would entail.

Also, will the statue of limitations ever apply to this incident? If so, when?

By Markus — On Jun 02, 2011

@goldensky - You can visit the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s website to conduct a warrant search. You can find a ton of information there. Keep in mind that if you do find that a warrant has been issued, then you may need to seek legal counsel, probably in the state of Florida. You also can search for warrants through the courthouse public records database from the county where the ticket was issued.

By bfree — On May 31, 2011

I took a trip to Florida to visit my cousin and to help with some repairs on his boat. I live in Texas and had just purchased a new truck. I had insurance and a temporary tag on it which I thought was sufficient for at least 30 days.

On my way home, just before I left the Florida state boarder I was pulled over for not having any tags on my vehicle. I wasn’t given a fine only a court date was issued.

I wasn’t able to get back down there by the time that date rolled around and now I may have a warrant out for my arrest. How do I conduct a warrant search for Florida to find out and what’s the best means to clear up this matter?

By goldensky — On May 29, 2011

@babylove - To do a Texas warrant search you can use a public records database online. Just make sure it’s a legitimate site before submitting any personal information. Even if your boyfriends name doesn’t appear in your search, doesn’t necessarily mean he paid for the ticket.

If your boyfriend doesn’t remember paying the fine then he can call the city or county courthouse where the warrant would’ve been issued. It might be necessary to call more than one location too.

The last resort is to go on your vacation and visit a police station or speak to an officer in that county to conduct the warrant search for you. Be prepared for the consequences because if they do find a warrant, he will most likely be arrested.

By babylove — On May 26, 2011

My boyfriend got a speeding ticket last year while we were on vacation in Dallas. We’re planning a trip back again this Summer, but I don’t think he ever paid the fine from that ticket.

How do I find out if there has been a bench warrant issued on him? Because I don’t want to go unless it’s safe for him to drive.

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