An outstanding warrant for your arrest can be issued for a number of reasons. Criminal bench warrants are routinely issued for failure to appear in court to face criminal charges. A warrant for your arrest may also be signed by a judge if you are a suspect in a crime, and the police are searching for you.
In most cases, unless it’s a very serious offense, the police aren’t running around town, repeatedly banging down doors in an effort to haul you in. For a failure to appear on a relatively minor matter, they may not have even bothered stopping by your home. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t in some real trouble.
If you are caught, such as in a routine traffic stop, you will be arrested on the spot, and will likely spend some time sitting in jail. And the police won’t exactly be eager to release you since you were considered a fugitive from justice. You may face a high bail as a flight risk, after skipping a court appearance already.
Criminal Penalties for an Outstanding Warrant
Many states have additional criminal penalties for failure to appear, and that can be considered a separate criminal offense from whatever underlying event required you to be in court. Typically, you are facing an additional felony offense if you failed to appear on a felony charge, and a misdemeanor if the original criminal court appearance was for a misdemeanor offense.
However, anytime you are alleged to have been a fugitive, you may have to anticipate tougher penalties at sentencing if you are convicted.
What Can a Criminal Defense Lawyer Do About My Outstanding Warrant?
There are actually a number of legal defense options to fix this problem before it gets out of hand, and before you are picked up and arrested on the warrant. Your attorney will certainly advice you to turn yourself in. However, in doing so, your lawyer can help explain how it may have been a misunderstanding. If you missed a court date, or whatever happened, by turning yourself in, and acting in good faith, a lawyer can work to fix the problem, and in some cases, possibly just get you a new court date without facing any additional penalties.
What About Really Old Warrants? Can they Still Affect Me?
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Absolutely, it can. This happens all the time.You can be arrested at any time. Even for an incident that is decades old.
If you are considered a fugitive, there is no statute of limitations on the charges. The fact that you are still at large and technically a fugitive means it is still considered an active crime.
As old police and court records get computerized and shared in nationwide law enforcement databases, you could suddenly be arrested on a traffic stop in California for a missed court appearance in Florida 15 years ago. It could be for a court appearance that you didn’t even know about at the time.
Or if you travel out of the country, you could be arrested upon returning. US Customs may have your name and flag you on the way back in.
But if you know you have an old criminal arrest warrant that you never dealt with, you actually have a lot of legal options.
An experienced defense attorney may be able to argue on your behalf that the underlying charges can no longer be proven. After a long period of time, evidence disappears, witnesses move, and police officers retire. So if you are wanted on a charge that they simply can’t prove, the warrant should be withdrawn (quashed).
In some cases, an attorney may be able to quash a warrant without you even needing to show up. It is absolutely worth speaking with an attorney if you are worried about an old legal problem coming back to haunt you. Fixing this may be easier than you think.
Will I Get Caught?
Eventually, yes. These things never go away on their own. And with increasingly common police surveillance technologies like automatic license plate recognition scanning systems, putting the pieces together is easier than ever. You can be stopped just driving down the street without doing anything wrong, if your license plate is added to a database of suspected owners with outstanding warrants. They you are arrested, and your legal defense options become much more limited, and the potential consequences even more serious.
If you know you have a problem with a criminal warrant, the smart thing to do is get it fixed before you are caught, and you still have some leverage and options to make the problem go away.
Contact us for a case evaluation on your outstanding criminal warrant, and find out how we can help.