Warrants are legal papers that can serve a variety of purposes. Most often, warrants in the legal sense are court-issued documents that allow law enforcement to take some sort of action. Warrants could grant officers the right to search an area or premises or even allow them to arrest a person.
Once a warrant is issued for a person, he or she must handle the situation. Contrary to what some people think, it will not disappear. In New York, some of the most often issued warrants are arrest warrants, bench warrants and search warrants.
Arrest warrants are issued by a judge authorizing police to place a person accused of a crime under arrest. These warrants commonly result from two different scenarios: being indicted by a grand jury or police exhibiting probable cause indicating the person committed a crime.
When these warrants are issued, officers have the right to follow up on them at any time. For instance, if a person is stopped for a minor traffic violation and he or she has a warrant, that person could be arrested, no matter the situation.
The warrants also authorize law enforcement to enter any premises in which they reasonably believe the person may be present. For example, if officers have knowledge a person is located in the home of a third party, they can enter the home, but they should give notice of their authority and the reason for entering the premises.
Officers sometimes can use the arrest warrants to enter property without notice if there is reason to believe giving notice would result in:
• The alleged offender escaping or attempting to escape officers
• The life or safety of the officer or another being endangered
• Destruction or damage of material evidence
Bench warrants often are not as severe as arrest warrants, and they typically are issued when a person violates the rules of the court. The only can be issued by the judge on the bench, and they most commonly are done so when a person fails to appear at court on a certain date and time.
Failing to pay a fine, failing to have proof of community service hours or being in contempt of court also could constitute having a bench warrant issued for a person. These bench warrants function similarly to arrest warrants in the sense that they allow officers to bring the person in.
A search warrant, which is very different from the other two, authorizes law enforcement the right to search a person’s home, place of business, vehicle or other premises. To obtain a search warrant, officers must prove there is probable cause to believe the search is justified.
Search warrants may specify certain hours in which they can be used. In most cases, traditional search warrants require police officers to show the document to the people whose premises they intend to search. However, there are “No-Knock Search Warrants” that allow law enforcement to enter without prior notice.
A warrant sometimes is not necessary for a search. Some instances in which law enforcement can comb through a home, vehicle or other premises without a court-issued warrant include:
• A person consents to the search
• Evidence of a crime is within view of an officer
• Immediately after a person has been arrested
• If officers believe evidence may be destroyed before a valid search warrant can be issued
If a person discovered there is an arrest warrant or a bench warrant with his or her name on it, the situation should be handled before it leads to an arrest. Waiting to be arrested is the worst way to handle the warrant. A criminal defense lawyer can help with the resolution of the case.