Arrest Warrants

What is an arrest warrant, and why is it important?

An arrest warrant or simply a “warrant” is a legal order that gives police and law enforcement the authority to arrest you for various reasons: for example, because you missed a criminal court date or are suspected of a crime. If you have an outstanding warrant this means that the police can take you into custody at any time – including during a routine traffic stop, at your home, or when you appear in court for another reason. If you do not take care of the warrant, you may constantly worry about being unexpectedly arrested or taken to jail. This is why it is very important to figure out if you have any outstanding warrants before getting your criminal record expunged (learn more about expungements starting on PG. 950) An outstanding warrant could also impact other areas of your life, such as your ability to get public benefits, public housing, or a passport.

What type of warrants could be on my record?

Below is a brief overview of different types of warrants that could show up on a record:

Arrest Warrant: An arrest warrant is issued after a grand jury or law enforcement officials have probable cause to suspect that you have committed a crime. Probable cause requires the knowledge of facts that would lead to a reasonable belief or strong suspicion that you committed a crime.[2968]  A judge will issue an arrest warrant for you if the judge determines a crime has been committed and that “there is reasonable ground to believe” that you committed the crime.[2969]

Bench Warrant: A bench warrant is issued for failing to obey a court order, such as failing to appear for a court hearing or failing to answer a subpoena. A bench warrant can be issued for the following reasons:

    Failure to pay a fine;
    Failure to appear after an indictment on criminal charges where the court has a fixed date and place for an appearance by the defendant;
    Failure to appear in court after an attorney and judge personally order the defendant to appear;
    Failure to appear in court and show proof of enrollment, progress or completion of community service or other alternative sentencing; and
    Failure to appear (FTA) in court after citation by police officer.

A bench warrant gives police the authority to arrest you at any time, but usually doesn’t trigger immediate police action. When a bench warrant is issued against you, your name will go into a statewide computer system that is accessible to the entire law enforcement community. Please note that in serious criminal cases, a failure to appear will most likely cause the court to issue a “regular” arrest warrant; this means the police may immediately try to find and arrest you.

Parole Warrant: A parole warrant can be issued if you violate the terms of your parole, including failure to meet your parole agent. If a parole warrant has been issued against you and you're considered a potential threat to public safety, the California Parole Apprehension Team will be sent to find you.

Not all parole violations lead to revocation of parole. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has developed a Parole Violation Decision Making Instrument to help parole agents determine whether parole should be revoked or not. If the agent recommends that your parole should be revoked, a parole warrant can be issued.

  1. 2968

    People v. Hillery (1967) 65 Cal.2d 795, 803.

  2. 2969

    Cal. Pen. Code § 813(a)

How do I find out if I have an outstanding warrant?

If you are unsure whether you have an outstanding warrant, check your county courthouse website to see if it has a searchable public records section with information about outstanding warrants. You can search your name to see if the website has any warrants listed under that name. Please note that this option of searching a courthouse database for warrants may not be available.

You can also call the clerk of the court in your county.  When you call the clerk of the court, ask if there is an outstanding warrant for “Person X” (your name) in a criminal or civil case. Have your name, birth date, and if possible, your case number and Social Security number, in hand. Avoid identifying yourself as the person for whom a warrant could have been issued.

If you do not feel comfortable calling the clerk of the court, you may also try calling your local public defender’s office to assist you.

How do I find out if I have an outstanding warrant in a federal case?

If you want to know whether you have an outstanding warrant in a federal case, call the federal clerk of the court for your district. If you are uneasy about calling the clerk of the court yourself, you can have another person call for you.

Another option is to go to the courthouse and look up your name in its public records. If it’s possible, have another person do this for you, as you risk being taken into custody if you have an outstanding warrant.

You may have multiple outstanding warrants out for your arrest in different federal circuits. The clerk of the court for one circuit may not be able to tell you whether you have a warrant in another circuit. Consider working with a bail bondsman or an attorney to determine if you have multiple warrants.

How do i find out if I have a parole warrant?

Maintaining a positive relationship with your parole agent is key to staying out of jail or prison. If you have missed a meeting, you should immediately call your parole office and ask your parole agent for instructions. 

You can reach the office for California's Northern Region at 916-255-2758 and the Southern Region office at 909-468-2300. These offices can then give you the phone number for your local parole office.

If you think a parole warrant has been issued against you, you can call the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation at 916-445-6713. 

I found out I have an outstanding warrant. What can I do?

If you have an outstanding warrant, you have a few options. You can call the clerk of the court and find out whether you can take care of the warrant by simply paying a fine. Although you may also go to the court and take care of your warrant in person, contact a lawyer to determine whether you are at risk of being taken into custody when you identify yourself.

It may be best to have a lawyer take care of the warrant for you. The lawyer may be able to get your warrant “recalled” or “quashed,” meaning the warrant would be deemed invalid. If you don't take care of your warrant, you risk being taken into custody the next time you come in contact with the police, even during a routine traffic stop. Call a lawyer to make sure this doesn't happen to you.