We often hear that there is a warrant out for a person’s arrest, which means that the individual names in the warrant is not yet in the custody of the police. But what is an arrest warrant and can one be out for you without your knowledge?

An arrest warrant is a document prepared by law enforcement that authorizes the apprehension of the named person. It has to be signed by a magistrate or judge, who will only do so if they are convinced in good faith that there is cause to believe that a crime has been committed by the subject of the warrant. In the warrant, certain specifications may be imposed, such as the crime, when and where the subject may be arrested, other restrictions, and bail (or in the case of a no-bail warrant, that no bail will be allowed, typically the case for “bench” warrants).

The document, which is actually a sworn affidavit, includes all the facts of a case that establishes the probable cause for the commitment of a crime by a specific individual. The affidavit cannot be couched in terms so vague that it could apply to more than one person. An example would be an application for a warrant that describes a middle-aged Caucasian male present at a liquor store at the time that a robbery took place that could refer to John Smith as well as Freddie Johnson. If the warrant is for John Smith, it doesn’t definitely identify John Smith as the only person who fits the description, unless the application further states that John Smith was identified by name by witnesses as the person who did the robbery. The judge or magistrate will sign the warrant if he or she is satisfied that there is sufficient evidence to justify the arrest the subject of the warrant.

An arrest warrant can be issued against you without your knowledge, and you will best serve your interests if you consult with a lawyer as soon as you are served with it and taken into custody. However, if you already believe that an arrest is imminent, it will not do to panic. As pointed out on the Flaherty Defense Firm website, the best thing you can do is to consult with a criminal defense lawyer to make your arrest as painless and stress-free as possible. An experienced lawyer will know how to work the system so that you will spend as little time in jail as possible such as by arranging for your bail with a bonds agent.