Integrity Legal

7th July 2010

American Warrants: An Overview

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The American Criminal Justice system, and the body of US law springing therefrom, is something of an amalgam of 234 years of American jurisprudence both codified and recognized by means of common law legal doctrines such as stare decisis. The following is a brief overview of US warrants and their usage by American courts in enforcing jurisdiction over individuals (both American Citizens and Foreign Nationals).

The Bench Warrant

The following is a direct quote from Wikipedia:

A bench warrant is a variant of an arrest warrant that authorizes the immediate on-sight arrest of the individual subject to the bench warrant. Typically, judges issue bench warrants for persons deemed to be in contempt of court—possibly as a result of that person’s failure to appear at the appointed time and date for a mandated court appearance. Bench warrants are issued in either criminal or civil court proceedings.

Commonly (but not always), the person who is subject to a bench warrant has intentionally avoided a court appearance to escape the perceived consequences of being found guilty of a crime. If a person was on bail awaiting criminal trial when the nonappearance took place, the court usually forfeits bail and may set a higher bail amount to be paid when the subject is rearrested, but normally the suspect is held in custody without bail. If a person has a bench warrant against them when stopped by a law enforcement officer, the authorities put them in jail and a hearing is held. The hearing usually results in the court setting a new bail amount, new conditions, and a new court appearance date. Often, if a person is arrested on a bench warrant, the court declares them a flight risk (likely to flee) and orders them held without bail.

Bench warrants are traditionally issued by sitting judges or magistrates.

There are a relatively large number of instances in which an individual finds that they have a pending bench warrant. Some opt to take the “do nothing” approach and simply hope the problem will go away on its own. Generally, this is unwise as courts rarely, if ever, allow a pending bench warrant to “go away”. Therefore, those with a pending warrant are well advised to retain competent legal counsel in an effort to deal with the matter promptly.

Arrest Warrant

With that in mind, the following quote, from the aforementioned wikipedia entry, succinctly sums up the issues regarding an outstanding arrest warrant:

An outstanding arrest warrant is an arrest warrant that has not been served. A warrant may be outstanding if the person named in the warrant is intentionally evading law enforcement, is unaware that a warrant is out for him/her, the agency responsible for executing the warrant has a backlog of warrants to serve, or a combination of these factors.

Some jurisdictions have a very high number of outstanding warrants. The U.S. state of California in 1999 had around 2.5 million outstanding warrants, with nearly 1 million of them in the Los Angeles area.[4]The city of Baltimore, Maryland, had 53,000 as of 2007.[5] New Orleans, Louisiana, has 49,000.[6]

Some places have laws placing various restrictions on persons with outstanding warrants, such as prohibiting renewal of one’s driver’s license or obtaining a passport.

The final line of the above quotation brings up a point that has previously been mentioned on this blog. Namely: the confiscation of one’s US passport by the American government if one has a pending arrest warrant in the USA. As has been previously noted on this blog, this can be an occasional occurrence outside of the United States when an American travels to a US Embassy or US Consulate to renew their passport or add visa pages at an American Citizen Services Section. In a large number of cases, if a pending arrest warrant is discovered, even if unknown to the subject, the passport will likely be seized, but the American Citizen may be given the option of being issued a travel document to travel back to the USA to deal with the pending matter.

Mittimus

Although not as commonplace in modern times, the mittimus writ is similar to a warrant and its practical application can be very similar to that of a warrant in some cases . The following is a final quote from the previously mentioned Wikipedia entry:

A mittimus is a writ issued by a court or magistrate, directing the sheriff or other executive officer to convey the person named in the writ to a prison or jail, and directing the jailor to receive and imprison the person.

An example of the usage of this word is as follows: “… Thomas Fraser, Gregor Van Iveren and John Schaver having some time since been Confirmed by the Committee of the County of Albany for being Persons disaffected to the Cause of America and whose going at large may be dangerous to the State, Ordered Thereupon that a Mittimus be made out to keep them confined till such time as they be discharged by the Board or any other three of the Commissioners.” Minutes of the Commissioners for detecting and defeating Conspiracies in the State of New York, Albany County Sessions,1778-1781. (Albany, New York: 1909) Vol. 1, Page 90

In police jargon, these writs are sometimes referred to as CAPIAS, defined as orders to “take” a person or assets. CAPIAS writs are often issued when a suspect fails to appear for a scheduled adjudication, hearing, etc.

As can be inferred from the citation above, the mittimus writ has its roots in American legal history and can still impact individuals (both American and Foreign) today.

Fugitive Warrant

Fugitive Warrants are another type of legal instrument that differ slightly from the aforementioned warrants. Below is a direct quotation from the glossary of Lawyers.com:

Definition
: an arrest warrant issued in one jurisdiction for someone who is a fugitive from another jurisdiction

Those with a pending American Fugitive Warrant are strongly advised to seek counsel from a competent American attorney in an effort to resolve the situation and deal with the legal consequences as quickly as possible.

Nothing stated above should be viewed as a definitive legal analysis regarding the issue of US Warrants. Furthermore, any individual case is unique and as a result no general information transmitted herein should be viewed as an appropriate legal analysis of a unique factual situation. For further information please see: warrant for my arrest or extradition.


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