All About Arrest Warrants

california arrest warrant formThe term “arrest warrant,” or “need a warrant” is one that is often heard when relating to police or watching fictional stories of law enforcement. These warrants are very important to the legal system. They are primarily a check on police power by preventing the police from arresting a person without just cause.

What is an Arrest Warrant?

An arrest warrant is basically a court ordered document that directs police to arrest an individual and bring them to appear before the court. All arrest warrants have similar requirements and usually sound basically the same. The particulars of a warrant are based on state law, so there is some variation in the requirements and wording by different states. Warrants are usually issued at the request of law enforcement officers and are approved by a magistrate or judge. There are times, however, when a judge may also issue a warrant on behalf of the court directly. These are called bench warrants.

When is a Warrant Not Needed?

There are times when police do not need a warrant in order to arrest an individual. If police directly observe a person committing a crime, then the police can arrest immediately without a warrant. If a person takes action against an officer, such as violating an order by an officer, then the officer can also arrest without a warrant. The subject is required by law to comply with the arrest regardless of circumstances.

The Requirements of a Warrant

All arrest warrants have some general requirements that must be met in order for the warrant to be constitutionally lawful. Most of these requirements are based off of the rights detailed in the 4th Amendment.

Probable Cause

The most important aspect of a warrant is the determining of probable cause. This means that officers must have reasonable, or “probable,” cause to arrest the person. Since the officer did not witness the crime, they must have other evidence or hearsay information that directs them to have cause to arrest. Hearsay information is anything provided to the officer by someone else, such as a witness to the crime. The officer brings this evidence to the judge, and the judge decides whether there is sufficient evidence. The wording of the law here is very vague in order not to make issuing a warrant too difficult. There are phrases such as “strong basis of knowledge” and “fair probability.” This means that the possibility of a successful warrant can vary based on the judge it is brought to. It is largely a matter of judiciary discretion.

Neutral and Detached Magistrate

While issuers of warrants are usually judges or attorneys, this is not exclusive. Members of Congress and other political entities can issue warrants so long as they are found to be “neutral” parties.

Lack of Reckless Falsehoods

The final requirement basically states that the evidence provided cannot be a “reckless falsehood,” or in other words a lie or purposefully misleading bit of information. If this clause is ever found to be violated, then the warrant can be revoked or annulled.

When disputing an arrest or the claims of an arrest, it is important to understand these laws and requirements in detail. If any of them are violated, then the case against a person weakens substantially, and critical evidence, witnesses or testimony may be excluded from a case.

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