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What is an Arrest Warrant?

By Josie Myers
Updated May 16, 2024
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An arrest warrant is an order that permits law enforcement officials to detain a person who is suspected of a crime. It can only be issued after the recording of a sworn statement by a victim of the crime, a police officer, or a district attorney. It's usually ordered by a judge, but can also be made by a regional or national legislature. In most places and for most types of crimes, these orders have no statute of limitations and remain open until the person is found and detained.


To issue an arrest warrant, a police officer or prosecutor has to demonstrate probable cause. He or she appears before a judge to present evidence to show why one should be ordered. In many cases, prosecutors and officers wait until they have several pieces of evidence linking a person to a crime before taking this step.

These orders have to contain specific types of information to be considered legal. Though rules vary regionally, most places require them to have a person's name or a clear enough description of him or her that a police officer can be sure of arresting the right person. Also, it will need to have a description of the type of crime committed, how much bail the accused person will have to pay, the place where it was issued, and the judge's name and signature.

Types of Warrants


A felony warrant is issued when a person is being charged with a felony offense, which is a relatively more serious type of crime. Though laws vary by jurisdiction, typical felonies include murders, large-scale thefts, and aggravated assault. Depending on the region, police officers may not even need an arrest warrant to detain someone suspected of this type of crime, even if it wasn't committed in their presence. Anyone who is convicted of a felony will likely have a jail sentence of at least a year.


A misdemeanor warrant may be issued for a less serious criminal offense that carries a penalty of up to 12 months in jail, a fine, or both. Examples of this type of crime include shoplifting, reckless driving, harassment, or prostitution. Unless the crime happens in front of law enforcement officials, they'll need to get an arrest warrant, except for certain crimes like assaulting a firefighter or paramedic, domestic violence, or causing a car accident while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.


A judge usually issues a bench warrant when a person fails to follow the rules of a court. It's most often made for people who fail to make a court-ordered appearance, but can also be made more generally for contempt of court. If the police feel there is a possibility that the accused will try to flee before his next court appearance, the judge may choose to detain the person in custody, with or without bail.


An outstanding arrest warrant is a designation that occurs when the police have been unable to make an arrest in a timely manner. Even though police may not actively search for people with outstanding warrants, they remain open indefinitely, and they catch up with most people eventually, even if they move to a different place. A person's driver's license may be flagged, and he or she may be unable to renew a license or get a passport without being arrested. Depending on the severity of the crime and the type of warrant, his or her passport may also be flagged, meaning that he or she could be detained when trying to leave or re-enter a country.

Arrests and Expungement

Once an arrest warrant is issued, police officers have to follow specific rules to detain a person. In most cases, they can arrest someone with a felony or bench warrant in any place, even across state lines in the US. If he or she is found in a different region from where the warrant was issued, the issuing region can request an extradition. The laws are a little different for misdemeanors: in the US, police officers can't arrest a person if he or she is not in public — for instance, if a person is at home — between 10 PM and 6 AM, unless they get a special order allowing them to do so.

In some cases, a person may be able to get these orders expunged, or erased from his or her record. For instance, a judge will often drop a bench warrant if a person makes contact with law enforcement and agrees to come to court. Likewise, a person who is falsely accused of a crime can usually get an arrest warrant expunged if he or she can prove that the police made a mistake in gathering evidence or that his or her identity was stolen.

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Discussion Comments

By Canner2u — On Mar 23, 2014

I have an arrest warrant for a class A misdemeanor. I left the state it was issued in prior to knowing about it. How can I resolve this without being arrested or returning to the state? Can I travel out of the country by plane or cruise ship?

By anon345490 — On Aug 20, 2013

Can a warrant for larceny in 2nd or 3rd degree put you on the no fly list?

By anon345471 — On Aug 19, 2013

I had a warrant for my arrest for a traffic violation and turned myself in. Afterward, I paid my $300 worth of tickets off and was going to court every date after.

I forgot my next court date and called my attorney's paralegal to get my next date she told me the right day but the wrong month so I missed it and now they have an order for my arrest. I have been trying to contact my lawyer but my calls and voicemails have not been returned.

By anon324185 — On Mar 08, 2013

No, bad credit does not disappear as people say after like seven years, even after you pay the bill, but it shows you paid the bill. As far as warrants, I need to know as well, but I do know that warrants also do not disappear after seven years, as I have heard. I have FTA warrants from 2005 and I believe they are still active, haven't checked lately. I'm trying to see if I can call the county I got pulled over in and see what my warrants are, if any. Good luck.

By anon303335 — On Nov 14, 2012

I am trying to fly home for thanksgiving but I haven't paid my ticket for underage drinking yet. Could they hold me up at the airport?

By joker1 — On Nov 11, 2012

What happens if you are from Virginia, and you were in North Carolina and received a DUI. You showed up to court for your sentence. The judge required you to go to AA classes and so forth, but you never followed through with anything. You just went back to Virginia and carried on with your life. That was in 2007. I know my license is flagged, but if I were to try to take care of this now, what should I expect to happen?

By anon293168 — On Sep 24, 2012

What happens when you called someone a name and they recorded it and I got a letter from their attorney saying as long as I don't contact that person again, they won't press charges. Can they still put out a warrant for my arrest? The event happened two weeks ago.

By anon286828 — On Aug 22, 2012

My brother has a misdemeanor warrant out. He says he will just go to a different state because he is not going back to jail. He also thinks once he turns 21 it will drop off of his record.

I am trying to convince him to go do his time, but he thinks he can get away with not turning himself in. Can he get a driver's license in a different state? Or will the warrant follow him? And will it drop off his record at 21? He just turned 20!

By anon277058 — On Jun 27, 2012

I am faced with serving jail time for my second DUI in CA and must surrender in two weeks. I went through rehab and now live in Canada with my fiancé. While I feel like I finally have my life back, this DUI is still haunting me and I need to make a decision fast. My jail time is only for four days, but I have extreme anxiety disorder and am willing to do anything but serve this jail time. Actually, I surrendered six months ago and had a panic attack inside the jail cell, so they released me as I still had time to serve it.

Also, in order to serve my time I must cross the border without any assurance that I will be let back into Canada, as it is just the luck of the draw that I got into the country in the first place (they don't allow you into Canada with a DUI, even if you're married to a Canadian). I have a decent attorney who is strongly advising me to fly to LA to get it done. Because of the uncontrollable anxiety and fear of not being able to get back into Canada, I'm tempted to just not do it and never cross back into the US, although I'm told if I choose that there will be a warrant out for my arrest and I might not be able to obtain a license in Canada. Any help on this would be much appreciated!

By anon265383 — On May 01, 2012

What does an "appearance record warrant" means in law?

By anon263327 — On Apr 23, 2012

So let's say someone has a bench warrant for non appearance in court and they didn't know about it, and they were charged for a misdemeanor possession of meth. Would the warrant eventually go out? What if turning themselves in, is not an option for the time being?

By anon228284 — On Nov 08, 2011

I got a felony warrant for a fake ID I had when i was in college. I now live abroad, and I never took care of it. I pleaded no contest and paid my fines. I just didn't complete my parole. Will that follow me internationally?

By anon218721 — On Sep 30, 2011

After ten years you can call the mandatory minimum department and they will purge it from the DMV system. Then you pay the DMV 125 bucks (in my state anyway -- Nevada) and then you can get your license back.

I had a warrant for a DUI for 11 years and figured it out on my own. Hope this helps some people get their lives back.

I also spoke to the DA and he said that after ten years all misdemeanor warrants go up for review to see if they want to keep pursuing it or drop it. But I'm cool with just having a license. I'm not moving back to CA anyway.

By anon148534 — On Feb 01, 2011

It all depends on the warrant and how bad the area wants you. Get a warrant for something minor like a ticket, you probably won't be discovered outside the county. Get a warrant for something huge like murder, and you've got to leave the planet to get away from it.

It doesn't matter so much on if it's a felony or misdemeanor. Most misdemeanors the state isn't going to want you bad enough to bring you back from very far. For most felonies, they will. However, I have a friend who has a felony warrant for identity theft from a state about 2,000 miles away. I don't know if police here can or cannot see it in the ncic database, but I do know he's been pulled over a few times at traffic stops and never gone to jail over the warrant. The state the warrant is in will only pick him up on the warrant if he's caught in the state.

By babyksay — On Nov 22, 2010

@turtlez - There is a frame of mind that many Police Officials or Officers have. Sometimes they may not be out to get you like that, but yes you were extremely lucky because an arrest warrant on your records means you WILL be arrested. Perhaps the cop just didn't see it on the full description or something or saw it just after. This kind of thing doesn't happen often, but occasionally it does. The only reason I know is because I know someone in Law Enforcement. Good luck! I personally think you should get it taken care of regardless of the reason it was originally issued.

By ellaesans — On Nov 22, 2010

@turtlez - I had a warrant for my arrest in another state from six years ago for unknown reasons (I think it was failure for financial responsibility that led to a bunch of unpaid surcharges). Here is the thing: warrants don't just "drop off" your driving record, so whoever says otherwise is wrong. Just ask a cop or legal official and they will tell you the truth. It is better to just either serve your time and/or pay your fines.

By turtlez — On Nov 22, 2010

I have a warrant of arrest for myself from about ten years ago. I got pulled over and didn't get arrested, so I'm wondering if they drop off your driving record or something... you know like they said bad credit marks come off your credit? I mean, why wouldn't I have been arrested? Shouldn't I have been?

By win199 — On Nov 22, 2010

Warrants for arrest are necessary for, well obvious reasons really, but the thing about them is that you don't NEED a warrant in order to get arrested. Let's say you're in possession of an illegal drug or over the Blood Alcohol limit on the Breathalyzer... you'll most likely be arrested on the spot once the discovery is made.

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