What should I do if the police call and tell me they have an arrest warrant for me?

A police officer requests that a judge sign an arrest warrant after preparing a sworn statement of allegations against you that the officer believes proves you committed a crime.

It’s critical to understand that our criminal justice system is adversarial. meaning that once the police and prosecutors believe there is evidence of a crime, it is their job to try to prove that in court. They are adversarial to the accused. People accused of crimes can have lawyers to defend them and potentially submit exculpatory evidence to refute the claims against them. 

What exactly are warrants, and what should they say?

A warrant is a piece of paper authorized by a judge  that authorizes law enforcement personnel to search or arrest someone in a home or other building. An arrest warrant authorizes law enforcement agents to detain you.

An arrest warrant does not necessarily give law enforcement authorities the authority to search your home (though they can check in places where you could be hiding and remove visible evidence), and a search warrant does not necessarily give them the authority to arrest you (but they can get a warrant to arrest you if they find enough evidence to justify an arrest). The judge’s name, your name and address, the date, the location to be searched, a description of any things to be looked for, and the agency’s name conducting the search or arrest should all be included in the warrant.

An arrest warrant without your name on it may still be legal if it describes you sufficiently to identify you. A search warrant without your name on it may still be valid if it provides the correct address and description of the location where the police will be searching.

While the police usually need an arrest warrant to make an arrest, there are some situations where arrests are allowed without a warrant. Similarly, while searches generally need to be approved by a warrant, there are certain instances when the police can conduct a search without a warrant.

What should I do if law enforcement officers call me?

You are not required to respond to any questions. You can say, “I want to consult an attorney before answering questions.” We strongly advise anyone who the police are seeking to question to remain silent and not answer any questions until consulting with an attorney.

What kind of law enforcement might approach me to interrogate me?

State or local police officers, members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, federal agents from the FBI, Department of Homeland Security (which includes Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Border Patrol), Drug Enforcement Administration, Naval Criminal Investigative Service, or other agencies may question you.

Do I have to respond to law enforcement officers’ questions?

No. You have the right to keep silent under the law. Even if you do not feel free to walk away from the officer, you are arrested or in jail, and you do not have to talk to law enforcement officers (or anybody else). If you refuse to answer a question, you will not be penalized. Before agreeing to answer questions, it is good to consult with an attorney. Only a judge has the authority to require you to answer questions and even then, a judge cannot force an individual to incriminate him or herself.

Can I consult with an attorney before responding to questions?

Of course. Whether or not the police inform you of your constitutional right to consult with a lawyer before answering inquiries, you have that right. It is the role of the lawyer to protect your rights. Officers should cease asking you questions once you announce you wish to speak with a lawyer. You have the right to remain silent if they continue to question you. Even if you don’t have a lawyer, you might tell the officer that you’d like to talk with one before answering any questions. Keep your lawyer’s business card with you if you have one. Show it to the police and request that your lawyer be contacted. Remember to acquire the name, agency, and phone number of every officer who stops or visits you, and give that information to your lawyer.

What if I go ahead and talk to the police anyway?

Anything you say to a cop can be used against you and others in the future. Suppose you are asked to identify yourself, you must reveal your identity to law enforcement agents in some states. You are not obligated to answer any more questions, even if you provide your name.

It’s important to remember that lying to a government official is illegal, but remaining silent until you speak with a lawyer is not. Even if you have previously answered some questions, you have the right to decline to answer any further questions until you have consulted with an attorney.

What if I am notified that there is an arrest warrant?

We typically advise clients who are notified they have an arrest warrant to turn themselves in. If you are notified that there is an arrest warrant for you, it is wise to consult with a lawyer about your specific situation. The advantage of turning yourself in is that you are better able to control where and when your arrest takes place. If you don’t turn yourself in, the police may arrest you at an inconvenient or embarrassing place, such us at work. If you turn yourself in, it also means you are more likely to be considered a low flight risk for purposes of having your bail set.

What happens during the arrest procedure?

The arrest process can vary by law enforcement agency. Therefore, we cannot say exactly what will happen if you are arrest. However, the following events are typical: he police will document the identify of the person being arrested by photographing them, taking their fingerprints, and documenting tattoos and permanent scars. The officer processing the arrest, who may or may not be the same officer who investigated the case and sought the arrest warrant, will complete a series of paperwork relating to the charge. Depending how busy the police are, this could take some time while the suspect is held in a holding cell. For New Hampshire state court arrests, as the paperwork is being completed, the police will contact what is called a bail commissioner. A bail commissioner is a justice of the peace who is an officer of the court with limited authority to set bail until the defendant can be brought before a judge. If the bail commissioner sets personal recognizance bail, or cash bail that the defendant posts, then the defendant is released immediately with bail conditions. The bail commissioner then sets a court date, which may be weeks or even a months away, and notifies the defendant of when they must come to court. This document is later filed with the court so the court can docket the case and knows when he defendant is expected to appear. If, on the other hand, the bail commissioner sets cash bail that the defendant cannot post, or orders that the defendant be held without bail, then the defendant is typically brought to a local jail and held until the next business day, when they are brought before a judge (either in-person of by video). The judge can then review the bail in court and decide whether to continue bail as was set by the bail commissioner, or change it.

So if you get a police call and tell you they have an arrest warrant and you have questions or concerns about your rights? Contact our New Hampshire criminal law attorneys for help getting answers today.

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