Right off the bat, and based on my years of experience as a criminal defense lawyer working in and around Columbus, Ohio, I’ll list three things you should never do:
- Do not intentionally evade a warrant because you fear consequence such as jail time.
- Do not ignore an arrest warrant thinking that the alleged offense is no big deal.
- Do not panic.
Once a warrant for your arrest is issued, it remains active until it is executed (satisfied through arrest). The warrant never expires, and any law enforcement officer can act on it even if the statute of limitations for prosecuting the underlying offense has run out. An arrest on an outstanding warrant can occur during a traffic stop or when you show up in court for a completely unrelated matter such as taking care of a family issue.
The warrant will also show up during background checks for jobs, loans, and professional licensing. If left unresolved, an arrest warrant can create a significant barrier to many important opportunities.
On top of that, ignoring or evading a warrant makes you subject to arrest and imprisonment even if the alleged offense would not have resulted in either. For instance, a judge may issue a bench warrant after missing traffic court. That warrant authorizes your arrest even though the original charge is not a jailable offense.
If a warrant for your arrest has been issued, you will want to contact a criminal defense and DUI lawyer as quickly as possible. They should know, or at least be able to find out, the best way to avoid being arrested i.e. approaching the judge to cancel the warrant and set a new court date. Dealing with the warrant in a timely and reasoned manner enables you to work toward resolving your problems with police and the courts without facing unnecessary and unwelcome complications.
Find Out Why the Warrant Was Issued
A court may attempt to notify you after it issues a warrant for your arrest, but a warrant can also be a surprise. If you have any suspicion that there may be a warrant for your arrest, I encourage you tosee if that particular location has a way to search for warrants online. In Columbus, Ohio, the City Attorney maintains this website as a publicly searchable database of all the outstanding warrants in the city and surrounding county for people who “have either not shown up for a court hearing, have failed to pay fines and costs as court-ordered or who may be in violation of a condition of probation.”
The website also offers this warning, in bold text: “All individuals with outstanding warrants are strongly encouraged to contact an attorney and/or turn themselves in.” As noted above, figuring out the best strategy for dealing with the warrant is a good idea. Make sure you contact an experienced criminal or traffic defense attorney to come up with a game plan.
Immediately driving over to the courthouse or police stationmay not be the best way to deal with the warrant. Rather, you should confirm that the warrant is valid then determine your options. Good steps to take include:
- Calling the court clerk to acknowledge receiving or learning about the warrant for your arrest.
- Confirming all the information in the warrant is correct, especially your name, age and address. The warrant might actually be for someone else who has the same name as you. Police and courts make mistakes.
- Clarifying the alleged criminal offense or other legal matter that led a judge to issue the arrest warrant. If you are under suspicion of theft, for instance, knowing the details of the charge may make it clear to you that the whole situation is merely a misunderstanding over ownership and permission. You will still need to turn yourself in, but you’ll go in having a plan for organizing your defense against the underlying charge.
- Asking if you have a deadline to report in person. The clerk will likely tell you should turn yourself in at the nearest police station as soon as possible. The point here is that expressing willingness to comply should keep police from knocking on your door before you have time to consult with a criminal defense lawyer and to prepare for the potential of spending some time away from work and home.
Consult a Criminal Defense Attorney
If an arrest warrant has been issued, you will appear before a judge regardless of whether you turn yourself in or police take you into custody. For this reason alone, you should arrange to have the advice and representation of an experienced traffic lawyer and criminal defense lawyer.
The attorney you contact regarding your arrest warrant should be able to offer advice about all of the following:
- When and where to turn yourself in;
- What types of questions you will be asked to answer while speaking with the officers assigned to your case;
- Whether you can expect to spend time in a holding cell; and
- Whether you will be required to post bail or if you can expect to be released on your own recognizance pending further proceedings.
The Attorney you consult regarding your arrest warrant should also be available to accompany and advise you while turning yourself in, during any preliminary interrogation, at your arraignment, then throughout the remainder of your case.