In the United States’ judicial system, being a law enforcement officer doesn’t give anyone the freedom to do anything they want at any moment they please. The truth is, there are many actions outside the law enforcement’s realm of authority.
For instance, an officer doesn’t have the right to arrest anyone until they’re proven guilty. Also, if a detective wants to search someone’s private property like a house or car, they can’t simply do it. Instead, a warrant is needed for any of those actions.
And if an officer wants a warrant, they must present compelling evidence against a suspect to convince a neutral judge of their argument. Then, the judge can decide whether or not it’s fair to issue the requested warrant.
In this article, we’ll discuss capias warrants. Specifically, what they are, and what to do if one is issued against you.
A capias warrant is classified as a bench warrant, which means that it can be used as a failure to appear warrant. Capias warrants are usually issued when someone fails to follow a court order like paying a fine or child support.
While most people know about the most popular warrants like search and arrest warrants, you’d be surprised at the number of people who don’t know what capias warrants are and what they do. But that’s simply because capias warrants don’t receive as much publicity as other ones.
The most basic definition of a capias warrant is an order to detain or arrest a person to ensure their appearance in court, meaning it’s a type of bench warrant. However, capias warrants are issued to bring in people with less serious crimes. For instance, failing to pay a fine.
Reasons a Capias Warrant May Be Issued Against You
Failing to Appear in Court
When someone gets convicted of a misdemeanor or a felony, they’re required to appear in court before a judge for their hearing. They can also get called into court for things as simple as a fine.
However, it’s common for people to forget their court dates. And in some cases, they actively ignore their court hearing. This leads the judge to issue a capias warrant against them.
So does that mean that forgetting your court date instantly leads to getting a warrant? Not necessarily. If you were experiencing a medical emergency on the day of your court hearing, going to court and presenting a signed note from a doctor will clear your warrant.
Failing to Pay a Fine
Some fines require you to go to court for payment. And depending on which court you’re dealing with, you’ll have payment options. For instance, some courts are more liberal and offer payment plans like allowing people to pay in installments.
On the other hand, some courts expect their payment in full. This leads people with financial issues to ignore their fine, hoping it’ll simply go away. But, little do they know, this leads to a capias warrant getting issued against them.
Failing to Comply With the Terms of Probation
Probation is when a judge decides that a crime isn’t serious enough for prison but not insignificant enough for a fine. And depending on the crime, the terms of probation can either be forgiving or severe.
These terms usually include community service, periodic meetings with a probation officer, and not crossing state borders.
If a person breaks a term of their probation, a probation violation warrant is usually issued against them. But, in some cases, the judge might decide to issue a more serious warrant like a capias warrant.
Failing to Pay Child Support
In family courts, capias warrants are used more often than bench warrants. So in cases like failing to pay child support, the judge usually issues a capias warrant.
Nevertheless, capias warrants aren’t exclusive to child support orders in family courts; they can also be issued with communication and custody orders.
What Do I Do if a Capias Warrant Is Issued Against Me?
If you’re unsure whether or not a capias warrant is issued against you, the worst thing you could do is not pursue your doubts in the hopes that the warrant will get cleared on its own because, the truth is, it won’t.
And finding out about your warrant early means you’ll have time to determine the best course of action to minimize your legal troubles.
So how can you tell if you have a capias warrant? There are a few options.
- Search online. This is the easiest way to find out if you have a warrant. However, you’ll have to make sure the website you’re on has your county’s warrant database. It’s also better to check two or three sites to ensure you’re getting accurate information.
- Visit your local police department. Your police department will have access to the law enforcement’s warrant database. The only problem is that if they discover you have a warrant, they’ll arrest you right then and there.
- Contact your district court. The police department might not find your warrant in their database if you’re wanted in another county. However, your district court will have a larger database, therefore, will have a higher probability of finding your warrant.
So if you’ve found out there’s a warrant against you, instead of ignoring it or trying to hide from law enforcement, we recommend you do the following.
Turn Yourself in Before You’re Arrested
Ignoring your warrant only means you’ll get arrested at your next encounter with the police, in which case, the judge is less likely to be sympathetic to your case.
On the other hand, turning yourself in usually means the judge will be more forgiving in regards to your sentencing.
Hire a Lawyer
You should instantly hire a trusted legal representative after discovering you have a warrant. They’ll be equipped to tell you the best course of action to take, have your best interests at heart, and try to minimize your sentence.
And when you go to court, having someone represent you is always better than representing yourself.
Don’t Resist Arrest
If you’re having an encounter with a police officer, and they tell you you’re under arrest because of a warrant, the best thing to do is to comply. Resisting means you could receive additional charges like assault or resisting arrest.
You’re also less likely to convince a judge to give you a smaller sentence if they see you’ve been resisting arrest or assaulting an officer.
Consequences of Ignoring a Capias Warrant
It’s always unwise to ignore a warrant. Given that most warrants don’t have expiration dates, choosing to ignore one will only lead to you getting arrested at your next encounter with a law enforcement officer. For instance, you can get arrested and brought to jail for getting pulled over for speeding.
You’ll also face some challenges with your vehicle. Trying to sell your car or renew your license will require you to go to the DMV. And if they find you have a warrant there, you’ll get detained and turned over to the police.
And your problems won’t end with you getting arrested; you’ll likely face more punishment than if you were to turn yourself in.
Pay a Fine
In addition to any fines you had to pay, you may be required to pay additional fines for ignoring your warrant. And the value of the fine is dependent on your original crime.
In the most extreme case, if you fail to appear in a felony court hearing, you can pay a fine of up to $2,500.
Having Your Bond Revoked
Instead of keeping everyone in jail to wait for their criminal hearing, judges give some people the option to pay a bond to await their criminal hearing outside of jail. Although, their bonds are usually accompanied by some terms.
And if you ignore a capias warrant while out on bond, getting arrested will most likely lead to your bond being revoked, and you’ll have to spend the rest of your waiting time in jail.
Receiving Additional Charges
Ignoring a capias warrant for failure to appear can result in receiving additional charges. This highly depends on your original charges, though
For example, if you missed a misdemeanor court hearing such as a hit and run, drug possession, or driving under the influence, you can get charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor.
On the other hand, missing a felony court hearing can lead to much worse consequences. Aside from paying a large fine, you can get charged with an additional Class 6 felony.
Potential Jail Time
Aside from any jail time you already need to serve for your original crime. Getting charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor can lead to one year in jail. However, a Class 6 felony charge can get you up to six years in prison.