Understanding the Different Types of Warrants

by Ambrosio Rodriguez | Jul 26, 2018 | Warrants

Warrants are an important part of our criminal justice system. They help to protect you from unreasonable and invasive police actions. There are three primary types of warrants in California: search, arrest, and bench. It is important to understand the function of each of these warrants and when they can be issued.

Search Warrants

You have a Fourth Amendment right to be free from unlawful police searches. The Constitution specifically states that this right “shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause.” While police do not always need a warrant to perform a legal search, they are highly encouraged to do so. Why? Unwarranted searches are presumed to be unreasonable. Evidence found during an unwarranted search is more likely to be challenged in a motion to suppress. Getting a search warrant helps to legitimize police action and protect evidence that is gathered.

Search Warrant Requirements

Search warrants can only be issued if probable cause showing criminal activity exists. In order to obtain a search warrant, a police officer must file a formal petition with a local court. The petition must include a written declaration of probable cause. The police officer basically has to explain why they (a) want the warrant and (b) believe evidence exists in a specific location.

A magistrate will review the petition and determine if probable cause exists. If the magistrate is not convinced that a search would be reasonable, he or she will deny the application. If probable cause exists, the magistrate will issue the search warrant. This warrant will authorize the police to perform a search.

Limitations of a Search Warrant

A search warrant does not give the police the right to conduct an exhaustive search of you or your property. Officers must adhere to the very narrow scope of the warrant itself. Warrants are only valid if they are “particular.” This simply means that the warrant must be narrowly drawn to limit a search to specific people, places, and things. Officers are typically forbidden from expanding a search beyond the parameters of the warrant itself. Items, evidence, or information gathered outside of the scope of the warrant can be subject to suppression.

There is an exception to the “particularity” requirement. Police can search and seize items that are in plain view. These items are not necessarily within the scope of the warrant, but police happen to see them anyway during the search. Plain view items must be seen without police manipulation. Stolen goods sitting on a coffee table would likely be in plain view. However, if those goods were underneath a cloth, they would not be in plain view. The officer would have to move and manipulate the cloth to actually see the stolen goods.

Arrest Warrants

You also have a Fourth Amendment right to be free from unlawful seizures. However, arrest warrants are not necessarily required in California. Most warrantless arrests occur when police personally witness a crime or have probable cause to believe that a specific person has committed a crime. If an officer isn’t entirely sure that probable cause exists, or if significant time has passed since a crime has been committed,  they may decide to request an arrest warrant.

Arrest Warrant Requirements

Police officers can request an arrest warrant by filing a formal petition with a local court. The petition must be supported by a written declaration of probable cause. The officer can also provide an oral statement to support the request for a warrant. A magistrate will review the petition and determine if probable cause exists. If there is sufficient proof to show that you have committed a crime, a warrant for your arrest will be issued.

Arrest warrants must also be particular. Errors or problems with the arrest warrant itself could invalidate any future arrests. A valid arrest warrant must include all of the following details:

  • The name of the person to be arrested
  • The criminal offense they are accused of committing
  • Details about probable cause used to obtain the warrant
  • The time and place the warrant was issued, and
  • An authorizing signature.

When Can Arrest Warrants be Served?

There are certain rules and guidelines outlining when, where, and how an arrest warrant can be served. The specifics will depend on whether you are facing charges for a misdemeanor or a felony.

Misdemeanor: Police can’t just show up at your house with an arrest warrant in hand whenever they want. Arrest warrants can only be served between 6 AM and 10 PM, unless a judge has signed off on nighttime service.

Felony: Since felonies are the most serious crimes a person can commit, felony arrest warrants can be executed at any time of the day.

Bench Warrants

Bench warrants are arrest warrants issued directly by a judge when you fail to comply with some kind of court order or command. This type of warrant is typically used when a judge feels that you have intentionally avoided your lawful responsibility to show up in court. A judge may issue a bench warrant if you fail to appear in court, fail to pay a fine, or are held in contempt of court.

The best way to avoid a bench warrant is to show up in court when you have a legal obligation to do so. Trying to avoid court will just complicate your legal situation.

Warrant Lookup

How can you know if a warrant has been issued for your arrest? There are a few different ways you can learn if any criminal proceedings have been initiated against you.

Los Angeles Superior Court: Search the Los Angeles Superior Court website to see if you are named in a pending criminal case. If you have an outstanding warrant, chances are fairly high that a case will show up.

Los Angeles Clerk: You can also reach out to a local Los Angeles criminal court to find out if there are any outstanding warrants in your name. The Clerk can run a simple search using your name and other identifying information.

Los Angeles Police: The police will be able to tell you if a warrant has been issued in your name.

Background Check: A background check performed by the California Department of Justice will also show whether or not there are any outstanding warrants in your name.

Search Engine: There are many private websites that offer information about outstanding warrants. These websites may require a fee to run the search and may not be up-to-date. The best option is to go directly to a Los Angeles court.

Need More Help?

Have you recently been served with a search warrant or arrest warrant in Los Angeles? If so, you need to speak with a qualified Los Angeles criminal defense attorney immediately. You have certain rights, and the Rodriguez Law Group will fight to protect them. Call us today to schedule a free consultation. We will review the details of your case and determine the best strategy for your defense.

To learn more, call our Los Angeles criminal defense law firm at 213-995-6767 or visit our contact us page to send us an email.