The DMV is a vital body in any state. They’re responsible for issuing state ID cards, driving permits and licenses, and vehicle registrations. These essential services naturally attract many daily visitors to the DMV.
But if you know there’s a warrant against you, that’s likely to cause a bit of concern over your DMV visit, especially since the DMV is a government-affiliated organization.
And given the number of people that go to the DMV daily and the number of active and open warrants in the law enforcement database, it’s not so rare for the two worlds to coincide. As such, the DMV has specific rules on what to do if a person with a warrant tries to access their services.
So if your papers are nearing expiry and you need the DMV, but you don’t know what to expect regarding your warrant, keep reading as we’ll clear the confusion.
The Short Answer
When you give the DMV your information, which is required for any of their services, they’ll run it on their database. This is standard procedure to ensure licensees are physically and mentally capable of driving and aren’t fugitives from justice.
If the DMV discovers an arrest or bench warrant against you, then they have a few courses of action:
- They can deny your service and suspend your license. In some districts, law enforcement agencies promptly report to the DMVs when they get an arrest or bench warrant against someone. In these instances, the DMV automatically suspends the suspect’s license and flags their profile.
- The DMV will likely call the police and notify them of your presence. They won’t always inform you about this call to prevent you from running, so you might be greeted by a few officers while you wait for your papers.
- If a Department of Public Safety officer is available, they’ll probably detain you until police officers arrive to take you into custody.
This is unfortunate for people who don’t know they have an outstanding warrant against them. But for those who do, it’s best to clear your warrant before going to the DMV or any other governmental service.
How Does the DMV Check for Warrants?
DMVs are different from one state to another. And each office has its method of ensuring its licensees aren’t a risk to themselves or others by assessing their physical and mental capacity and, of course, checking for warrants.
That being said, not all DMVs directly check for warrants in a law enforcement database. Instead, some use other ways to filter out warranted suspects.
In many states, the courts promptly report to the DMV when they issue warrants for traffic crimes like DUI. Afterward, the DMV issues a DMV hold, effectively prohibiting the suspect from issuing or renewing their state IDs, driver’s license, or vehicle registration.
Additionally, the DMVs of some states may bar the suspect from driving by suspending their license.
DMV holds can also be issued for a wide variety of reasons, also depending on the state. For example, in some states, they’re issued for any outstanding arrest warrants, while in others, they only care about traffic-related warrants.
California is an interesting case because its courts will notify the DMV if you fail to appear in court or violate a court order, such as probation terms. And in these instances, the DMV can place a hold on you. But, of course, this is in addition to other traffic offenses like failing to pay a fine or having an arrest warrant.
In Colorado, when the DMV receives the court’s notification telling them about an arrest warrant, it doesn’t immediately suspend licenses or place holds. Instead, they notify the suspect and give them a month of grace period before they suspend the license.
And in New York, the system is even more advanced and automated. Instead of having a DMV staff member look through the records, they let their facial recognition do the work. When they take your picture for the ID photo, it runs against the state database and returns positive matches, if there are any.
What Does DMV Staff Do When They Find a Warrant?
Finding people with arrest warrants in the DMV isn’t rare. And depending on the DMV and its resources, here are the actions its staff will likely take.
Deny Your Service
One of the hassles of living with an arrest warrant is the denial of almost all governmental services, including the motor services of the DMV.
Once the DMV staff find an arrest warrant against you, their priority is to inform the police and have you removed from the premises as soon as possible, especially if the crime you’re warranted for is a felony or violent crime.
As such, the staff won’t renew your ID card, license, registration, or other services you’re looking for there. And they’ll probably even suspend your license until the warrant is cleared; then, you can go back there and renew it.
In fact, many states require courts to notify their local DMVs of arrest warrants or other warrants related to traffic violations. And in return, these DMVs are expected to suspend the suspect’s license and place a DMV hold against them.
Call the Local Law Enforcement
While waiting for the staff to run your info or (supposedly) finish your paperwork, the staff will likely call the police without your knowledge to avoid having you flee the scene.
Afterward, the police will respond and arrive on the scene within minutes to apprehend you. From here, your destination depends on the severity of your crime.
For minor violations like failure to pay a traffic ticket, you’ll probably get an officer nudging you and asking you to come along, where you’ll be detained. Or, if you’re lucky, the officer might even give you a chance to pay your fine on the spot.
In contrast, if you’re a class A felon with serious crimes on your name, the response will be predictably much more prompt. And you might even have an entire team enter the building to apprehend you before you escape.
But of course, these are only extreme cases. For most people, it’ll just be one or two police officers arriving to apprehend you calmly, but they will be prepared if you try to run.
Ask a DPS Officer to Detain You
Some DMVs have at least one Department of Public Safety (DPS) officer around in case anyone causes a stir. And if they find an arrest warrant against you, they’ll probably call the police and then ask the DPS officer to detain you.
The DPS officer themself can’t make the arrest, so they’ll keep you in a room away from the crowd until the police arrive to take you into their custody.
What Are My Options?
Having an outstanding warrant against you is unpleasant. And it makes many aspects of daily life difficult since you’ll practically be unable to use any governmental services for fear of being arrested on the spot.
In reality, most people who get arrested on warrants do so in traffic stops. So it’s considerably less frequent to be arrested while at the DMV or some other government building.
So the natural course of action is to hire an attorney and turn yourself in at your nearest police station or sheriff’s office.
Some people wrongfully prolong their hassle because they believe their warrants will eventually expire, and it’s better than being arrested by the police and spending time in jail.
In reality, arrest warrants don’t have a statute of limitations, and many people are arrested months or even years after their warrants are issued.
Besides, if you turn yourself in, you’ll earn a more favorable standing with the court because it’ll look like you want to resolve this matter promptly.
On the other hand, if you evade arrest for long, the prosecutor will almost definitely use this as leverage against you in court.
In short, yes, DMVs check for warrants directly or indirectly. For example, some of them might already have a list of people with arrest, bench, or traffic warrants, while others will run your info or picture against the state database during their background check.
Whatever the DMV’s methods are, if the staff finds that you have an arrest warrant, they won’t issue or renew your state ID, driver’s license, or vehicle registration. And they’ll almost always call the police while you’re waiting so that you don’t make a run for it.
And in some states, you’ll already have been red-flagged by the DMV the moment the court issued your arrest warrant since they notified the DMV to suspend your license.
So if you want to enjoy the DMV’s services, you’ll have to clear your warrant first. We recommend you hire a good attorney and turn yourself in to solve this problem as soon as possible.