Warrants, whether issued for an arrest or search, are legal orders issued by a court that authorize law enforcement to take specific actions. These warrants are typically issued within the jurisdiction of the court. But what happens if you have an active warrant from a different state? Can you be arrested outside that state’s borders?
Warrants serve various purposes within the legal system. Two common types are arrest warrants and search warrants:
- Arrest Warrants: An arrest warrant is a court order that authorizes law enforcement to take an individual into custody. This is typically issued when a person is suspected of committing a crime, has failed to appear in court, or violated the terms of their probation or parole.
- Search Warrants: A search warrant allows law enforcement to search a specific location, such as a home or vehicle, to gather evidence related to a crime. It must be issued based on probable cause, usually supported by an affidavit from law enforcement. Sometimes, a search warrant can even require a suspect to provide a sample of their DNA.
Extradition and Out-of-State Warrants:
When discussing out-of-state warrants, it’s important to consider the concept of extradition. Extradition is the legal process by which one state or jurisdiction requests the surrender of an individual to face criminal charges or serve a sentence in another state. This process is governed by federal and state laws, as well as interstate agreements.
Key Points to Understand:
- Warrant Validity Across State Lines: Arrest warrants issued in one state are not directly valid in other states, meaning that the authorities in the state with the warrant cannot simply cross state lines and arrest the defendant in another state. However, due to interstate extradition agreements, the existence of the warrant is shared with one state to the others. Through these compacts, the local law enforcement authorities have the authority under their own state law to arrest the defendant on an out-of-state warrant and hold them until an extradition hearing is held. The charge against the person while waiting for an extradition decision is called “fugitive from justice.”
- Extradition Process: To execute an out-of-state arrest warrant, the requesting state typically initiates an extradition process. This involves formal requests, paperwork, and coordination between law enforcement agencies in both states. If a defendant is arrested out-of-state, they are brought before a local court to determine if the charges from the home state are valid. The judge will then decide whether to order them be extradited, meaning whether the authorities from the state with the warrant can legally take custody of the defendant and transport them back to their state for trial. The local judge can also decide whether the defendant should be held in jail waiting to be extradited, or whether they can be released with orders to self-surrender. The biggest factors that the judge usually considers in making this decision are the seriousness of the charges, the defendant’s prior criminal history, and whether the defendant has ever failed to appear in court before. If the defendant is held in jail waiting for extradition, the other state has a certain amount of time to extradite after which a review hearing is usually held to decide if the defendant should be released.
- Extradition Laws Vary: Each state has its own laws and procedures regarding extradition. While many states have adopted the Uniform Criminal Extradition Act (UCEA), there may be variations that impact the process.
- Seriousness of the Offense: While states generally have the right to extradite on any type of warrant, extradition can be quite expensive, especially if the states are a great distance apart. Therefore, the states use warrant codes within their database that inform the other states whether they want the defendant held for extradition, if arrested. Naturally, states are more likely to seek extradition for serious offenses, such as felonies, rather than minor infractions or misdemeanors.
- Habeas Corpus: If you are arrested on an out-of-state warrant, you have the right to seek a writ of habeas corpus. This legal mechanism allows you to challenge your arrest and detention, asserting your right to due process.
- Governor’s Warrant: In some cases, the extradition process may involve a Governor’s warrant, which is issued by the governor of the state seeking extradition. This warrant authorizes the transport of the individual back to the requesting state. This is a very rare request and would typically only be made if the defendant has a very unusual challenge, such as a claim that they are not actually the person named in the warrant. It is important to note that the validity of the charges are not considered relevant during extradition. It is up to the state with the warrant to have a trial to decide if the charges are legitimate. The other state is simply honoring its interstate agreement to hold a fugitive defendant for extradition.
- Waiving Extradition: The defendant almost always has the option to waive extradition, which expedites the process and avoids a lengthy court battle. However, it’s crucial to consult with an attorney before making this decision. One possible advantage is that the state with the warrant may be more likely to award pretrial credit for the time the defendant spends waiting for extradition. Otherwise, this may be “dead time” and not count towards an eventual jail or prison sentence.
Out-of-state warrants and your diver’s license
If a defendant has a relatively minor infraction or a misdemeanor, such as a DWI, usually the state with the warrant will not extradite. Keep in mind that this is not a guarantee and the state has the right to ask that the defendant be held for extradition. However, most states will not bother due to the expense.
The question that then occurs is, if someone has a warrant for such a minor infraction, what is stopping them from simply moving states and starting over? Of course, in many situations this is not practical because the person already is established and cannot practically move without uprooting their life. For instance, if they have a family, a career, a home, or a business. On the other hand, if the defendnat is young, not well established, or does not have a career or family, they may be tempted to simply pack up and move. Or, even if they do have some of those things, they may be able to move to a nearby state and continue on – such as from New Hampshire to Massachusetts, if they live near the border.
If only it were that easy. The main disincentive for doing this is that, with an active warrant, even if the state will not extradite, they will suspend their driver’s license. This goes into the interstate database and is conveyed to every other state, which is supposed to trigger a reciprocal suspension in those states too if the person has or tries to get a license somewhere else. Of course, for most people it is quite hard to function without a driver’s license.
Even if someone does not need a driver’s license. Perhaps they are retired, are a student, live in a large city with public transportation, or are well-off and can afford drivers. Nevertheless, the inability to get and maintain state identification often creates some kind of life barrier that becomes inconvenient us that the defendant wants to finally turn themself in and clear up the warrant. This is not always true. There are some people who go years or even decades with an active warrant from another state, and arrange their life to go without a license or proper state identification. But most people eventually want to be able to live above board, and will finally try to clear up the warrant.
Depending on the states involved, it can take quite some time for a warrant in one state to get flagged in another state. Sometimes people do not even realize that they have an active warrant. For example, the warrant may have been issued after the person left the state, and they were never notified. Then, sometime later, they will suddently get a notice from their local DMV that their license is being suspended due to a warrant. At Cohen & Winters, we get dozens of frantic calls a year from out of staters who have been notified of a suspended license due to a New Hampshire warrant that they had put out of their minds.
We should note that the discussion in this article does not pertain to international warrants from one country to another. Most people have heard of famous cases such as Julian Assange or Roman Polanski. There are entirely different international treaties that apply in these situations. This type of situation will be much more complicated and likely requires the assistance of good criminal lawyers in both countries, ideally some with experience in international warrants.
What to Do if You Discover an Out-of-State Warrant:
If you become aware of an out-of-state warrant for your arrest, it’s essential to take immediate and cautious steps:
- Contact an Attorney: Seek legal counsel from an experienced criminal defense attorney who can assess the details of the warrant and advise you on the best course of action. Sometimes a local attorney may involve an attorney in the state with the warrant to try to negotiate a surrender instead of an arrest.
- Understand Your Rights: You have rights under both federal and state laws, including the right to legal representation and the right to contest extradition.
- Gather Information: Work with your attorney to gather all relevant information about the warrant, such as the charges, the state issuing it, and any potential defenses.
- Negotiate Surrender: In some cases, your attorney may be able to negotiate a surrender arrangement that minimizes inconvenience and legal complications.
Having an out-of-state warrant can be a complex legal issue, and the consequences of mishandling it can be serious. It’s crucial to seek immediate legal advice if you discover such a warrant. A qualified criminal defense attorney can guide you through the process, help protect your rights, and determine the best strategy for addressing the warrant in a manner that is both legal and in your best interest. Contact us for a free consultation to learn how we can help ensure you get the fairest representation possible.