Warrants give the police the right to do things that would normally be considered illegal. For example, in normal circumstances, if a police officer enters your house and starts searching it for evidence, they would get charged with breaking and entering and invasion of privacy. However, a warrant gives them the right to legally do so.
So while there are types of warrants like arrest warrants, which involve the police dedicating their resources to look for a suspect actively, there are less severe warrants that don’t work the same. Instead, they wait for their next encounter with the suspect to arrest them.
So, in that case, does that mean the suspect will spend the rest of their lives avoiding the police, or does the warrant expire after some time? That’s what we’ll discuss in this article.
While some people think that ignoring the warrant will result in its expiration, that’s not the case. From the moment a warrant is issued, it remains in place until the person who the warrant was issued against addresses the warrant or is apprehended.
Warrants and the Statute of Limitations
If a person commits a crime, but the police find out about it years later, that can give them immunity to getting charged. That law is called the statute of limitations. It’s essentially a time limit for filing charges against a person.
However, the statute of limitations isn’t a constant. Instead, it depends on the crime. For instance, misdemeanors have a statute of limitations of one year. And depending on the felony, it could have a statute of limitations anywhere from five years to none at all.
And for most warrants, there is no statute of limitations. This means that a time limit isn’t set for their validity when they’re issued.
So How Long Do Warrants Last?
This depends on the type of warrant. For instance, serious warrants like an arrest warrant will last until it has fulfilled its purpose. This is very understandable since it would be outrageous if criminals could just wait until their arrest warrants expire for their convictions to be forgotten.
However, less severe warrants like Ramey warrants get an expiration date. Although, this is because Ramey warrants are issued without a conviction, so if the police can’t use the warrant within a certain time frame, that means their suspect is innocent.
What Causes a Warrant to Get Issued?
Warrants are valuable tools for the judicial system. And without them, many more criminals would simply get away with their crimes without punishment.
Warrants are issued to authorize officers of the law to commit acts that would normally be considered illegal to serve justice to the community.
For example, an officer can’t arrest anyone without probable cause. But if the officer knows that a person has been convicted, a warrant allows them to arrest that person without probable cause to take the criminal to court and answer for their crimes.
Types of Warrants and How Long They Last
Not all warrants were created equal. Some serve more important functions than others. And in turn, some have expiration dates while others don’t.
And for your convenience, we’ve compiled a list of the most commonly issued warrants, elaborating on their purposes and how long they last.
Bench warrants are usually issued when people fail to appear in court. This could be due to a probation violation, missing a court hearing, or failing to obey a court order, such as paying a fine. This could also be issued if a grand jury has indicted you.
Also, bench warrants don’t have an expiration date. And while police don’t actively search for people with bench warrants, they get arrested at their first interaction with the police, such as getting pulled over or trying to renew their license.
If a person has been involved in a police investigation and found guilty of a crime, they’ll get convicted, and an arrest warrant will be issued against them. And unlike bench warrants, the police actively search for people with arrest warrants.
However, like bench warrants, arrest warrants don’t expire after a fixed time. Instead, they last until the convict dies or is apprehended.
For a search warrant to be issued, the police need to convince a neutral judge they have probable cause to search a private location. This could be due to criminal activity inside or if that place contains evidence of a crime.
The way police convince the judge they have probable cause is by bringing in witnesses, sworn statements, and evidence. When a judge signs a search warrant, the occupant of the property doesn’t get notified.
Search warrants are considered spent after ten days of their issuing. And in some cases, the judge might set a smaller expiration period for the warrant.
Also, once the warrant is used to enter private property, it is spent. Meaning that if the police wanted to enter the same property again, they’d have to get another warrant.
However, there are special instances where the police can search private property without getting the judge’s approval on a warrant.
- A stop and frisk. If a police officer has a reasonable suspicion of a crime, they can stop and search a suspect at any moment. However, the officer would have to explain why they had their suspicions.
- A consent search. If a person gives permission to the police to search their property.
- An automobile exception. Suppose the police have probable cause that leads them to believe a car, truck, recreational vehicle, or boat contains evidence of a crime. In that case, they can search the areas of the vehicle that may contain the suspected evidence.
- Search incident to arrest. If a person is being lawfully arrested, the police have the right to search their person and seize any evidence found on them.
- A hot pursuit or emergency. If the police are in an active pursuit against a suspect, and the suspect enters private property, the police have the right to enter that property without a warrant or the owner’s consent to search for the suspect inside. They can also take any evidence that can be easily destroyed or hidden, such as drugs.
- The plain view doctrine. If a police officer is in a public area and spots a private object that can be used as evidence, they have the right to seize that object.
Ramey warrants are also referred to as probable cause warrants. The main feature of Ramey warrants is that a person doesn’t need to be convicted to have one issued against them.
The police obtain a Ramey warrant by submitting a declaration of probable cause to a neutral judge. Also, they can obtain a ramey warrant without the district attorney’s approval.
The purpose of Ramey warrants is to arrest un-convicted people for gathering essential evidence through questioning a suspect. The police also seek Ramey warrants if the district attorney claims insufficient evidence to reject their case.
A Ramey warrant remains valid up to 90 days starting from the day it was issued. But still, a judge can set a Ramey warrant’s expiration period to less than 90 days.
Writ of Bodily Attachment
These are also known as body attachment warrants. And they concern matters of civil contempt. These are issued when a person didn’t necessarily commit a crime but still didn’t fulfill a direct court order.
Body attachment warrants are most commonly used in cases of failure to appear in civil court, failure to pay child support or alimony, and disobeying a court order such as paying a fine.
A writ of bodily attachment expires after 180 days of issuing. In this case, the judge may issue another if they see fit. Also, the expiration date will be written at the beginning of the writ.
Capias warrants are often used in traffic, family law, and civil courts. An issued capias warrant compels you to fulfill a court order of payment or fines or make your scheduled court appearance.
And if someone loses a judgment and fails to pay the restitution ordered by a judge, a capias pro fine warrant will be issued against them.
Having a capias warrant issued against you adds your name to the law enforcement’s warrant database. So a capias warrant works a lot like a bench warrant, where the police don’t actively search for you but can detain you the next time they interact with you.
Also, getting arrested due to a capias warrant means you’ll have to post bail to get released and get a new court date, unless your lawyer can convince the judge otherwise.
Once a capias warrant is issued, they never expire. They will only be cleared once the suspect has been apprehended.
If you’ve recently found there’s an active warrant issued against you; there’s no doubt you’ll want to get that cleared as fast as possible. And while you can wait out the expiration period of some warrants like search warrants and Ramey warrants, others will need to be actively addressed.
So if you don’t want to be instantly arrested the next time you interact with a police officer, you have some options to deal with your warrant to make them go away.
Answer to the Issuing Judge
If a judge issued a warrant against you, the worst thing you could do is ignore the warrant, hoping it’ll go away. Because with most warrants, it won’t.
And while you may be enjoying your freedom without a care in the world, you will be instantly arrested and brought to jail at the first encounter with a police officer.
The problem is, if it reaches the point where they need to arrest you to get you to go to court, the judge will be much less sympathetic to your case and will possibly add additional charges to the ones you already have.
So the best-case scenario is to answer to the judge willingly. This will show that you’re taking responsibility and can lead to a better outcome with your charges.
Get a Legal Discharge
A legal discharge means that the judge recognizes that you have committed a crime but chooses not to sentence you to any form of punishment. However, you still have to appear in court for the warrant to be cleared.
This is the best-case scenario for any court session. However, you’ll need a good lawyer to convince a judge to give you a legal discharge. And not every crime can result in a legal discharge. So consult your lawyer before going for this option.
Pay the Fines Associated With the Warrant
Many types of warrants like a capias warrant, a writ of bodily attachment, and a bench warrant get issued against people who don’t fulfill their court-ordered payment or fines.
So if this is the case for you, paying the fine will mean that the warrant serves no purpose anymore. Therefore, the warrant gets cleared, and your name is removed from the law enforcement warrant database.
Get Your Probation Reinstated
If you’ve broken a term of your probation agreement, this will lead to issuing a probation violation warrant against you, which is a kind of bench warrant.
When you have a probation violation warrant, your probation gets revoked, and you’ll eventually get arrested and sentenced to prison.
However, that can be avoided if you can get your probation reinstated, leading to the warrant getting cleared.
A judge can reinstate your probation if your lawyer can prove your innocence against the evidence presented against you or if you’ve broken a minor term of your agreement.
Also, suppose you violated your probation terms by missing your community service or a meeting with your probation officer due to sickness. In that case, you can get a signed document from a doctor to reinstate your probation.