WHAT DO I DO IF THERE IS A WARRANT FOR MY ARREST?
I often get calls from people telling me that they heard the police had been looking for them at their house or job. They might have a warrant out for their arrest and they don't know what to do. Here are the questions I get about warrants and some basic answers to help you get an understanding of your options:
1) What kind of warrant do the police have for me?
There are different types of warrants, normally we see them in three situations. An Arrest Warrant is the most common. This means that the police believe you have committed a crime and they have asked a Magistrate judge to sign a warrant for your arrest. The warrant lists out the crimes they believe you have committed with a brief description. Sometimes the judge will include a bond amount along with the warrant, meaning you will be able to post a bond after you are processed into the jail, if you can afford the bond. If a bond isn't included with the warrant, you will need an attorney to help you get a bond.
A second kind of warrant is called a Bench Warrant. These warrants are usually issued when you were supposed to appear in court but did not. On the day you missed court, the judge probably confirmed that you were issued a proper notice to be in court, then confirmed that you were not there by calling your name, and then issued the arrest warrant. (It is issued from the "bench" where they sit.) In some courtrooms, these are called FTA's (failure to appear), and can sometimes be resolved by paying a fine for the FTA as opposed to being arrested. You will also sometimes see "OCR" warrants which are issued when they believe you have violated the conditions of your bond. If you are arrested on any kind of bench warrant, there is usually no bond attached to warrant. So, you will not be able to immediately bond out of jail upon your arrest on a bench warrant. Instead, you will need an attorney to help you get the bench warrant cleared through the judge in order for you to be released.
The third common type of warrant is a Probation Warrant. If you are on probation and you violate your probation, your probation officer can ask the court to issue a warrant for your arrest. We often see probation warrants issued when people on probation get new charges or they stop reporting to probation as required. Like a bench warrant, there is not usually a bond attached to this kind of warrant. Normally when you are arrested on a probation warrant, you will remain in custody until the judge gives you a court date and you somehow resolve the probation violation.
2) How do I keep from being arrested on the warrant?
If there is an active warrant for your arrest, and the police are looking for you, it is very difficult to avoid the arrest. The police will continue to visit the places you have been known to live, your family, and go to your workplace. They can show up in the middle of the night while you're sleeping, or arrest you in front of your co-workers in the middle of a workday or stop you on the road while you are driving. Once a warrant is placed into the state and nationwide databases, any officer who encounters you and runs your information will know that there is a warrant for you. If you have a license plate issued in your name, you may get pulled over when law enforcement runs your license plate as they drive by (many police cars have automated tag readers now) and see that you have a warrant.
Even if you leave the state, you can still be stopped by police in other states. (Whether you are extradited back to Georgia on that warrant depends on your particular situation.) While you may be able to avoid the arrest for a short period of time, the warrant does not go away. It can be exhausting and stressful for people to try to keep avoiding an arrest. And often, the longer you evade arrest, the more difficult it is to get a good resolution in the case. For that reason, most people call an attorney to help them deal with the warrant as soon as possible.
3) How can an attorney help me with a warrant?
An attorney can help in many ways when dealing with the warrant. In most cases, an attorney cannot make the warrant go away immediately, but we can help you deal with it smoothly and much more quickly. First, an attorney may be able to work with law enforcement to allow you to turn yourself in to the jail, as opposed to having the police show up at your workplace to arrest you. For people who are trying to keep their jobs, convincing police to allow a person to quietly turn themselves into the jail and bond out without their employer knowing is extremely important. People also want to avoid the embarrassment of being arrested at home in front of their kids or their neighbors. With arrest warrants, an attorney may also be able get a consent bond in place for you, so you do not have spend much time in the jail. With bench warrants and probation warrants, your attorney can work with the prosecutor, judge and probation officer to resolve it quickly.
Sadly, I get calls all the time about people who were arrested on a warrant and thought they could handle it themselves. They are shocked to find out they didn't get a bond and have no idea how to get one. In some cases, they sit for weeks, even months, without a court date to get their situation resolved. By the time I get the call to help, their loved one has wasted weeks or months of time in custody, and have lost their job and maybe even their apartment, when in many cases I could have gotten them out much sooner. An attorney can get the case on the next available calendar for a judge, or even get an agreement in place that allows for release without having to wait for a judge's next available court date. If you or someone you know has an active warrant, call an attorney right away, even before the arrest has happened. In the end, it could save you months of time in custody and put your case in the best position going forward.
4) Can't I just call the police and talk to them about my warrant?
It is never a good idea to speak with the police directly about your warrant. Obviously, anything you tell the police will be used against you, even if you haven't been arrested yet. Police are allowed to lie to suspects, and often do as part of their investigations. You cannot rely on what the police may tell you. Even innocent people can have their words twisted and misinterpreted, and they end up getting themselves in even more trouble. Additionally, the police, judges and prosecutors will not negotiate with you about the charges while the warrant is pending. The magistrate judge who signed your arrest warrant will not discuss the case with you. It is always wise to hire an attorney to help manage the case for you, speak to law enforcement on your behalf, and to help get you out of custody as quickly as possible after the arrest.
5) Will I automatically get a bond (bail) if I am arrested on a warrant?
No. As I mentioned above, for bench warrants and probation warrants, you are not usually eligible to get a bond upon arrest. Instead, your attorney needs to work with the judge, prosecutor and/or probation officer to get those warrants resolved so you can be released. On an arrest warrant, if the charges are less serious, it is more likely you will have a bond already in place when the warrant is issued. However, if the charges are more serious, or you are on probation when the new warrant for your arrest is issued, you will not have a bond right away. In those cases, you will need an attorney to help you get a bond set.
6) What happens after I'm arrested on the warrant?
The first thing you will always want to think about after being arrested is getting a bond to get out of jail. You need to be sure you have been given a bond by a judge and second, you need to contact a bondsman or family to pay the bond. But remember, your case is not even close to being over once you've gotten a bond in place. Being arrested in only the first step in fighting criminal accusations against you. Even if you have a bond on your warrant, you may need help getting the bond amount lowered, or dealing with the restrictions the judge has placed on you by granting the bond, such as no contact orders or ankle monitors. After your arrest, whether you are in custody or out, your case will still have to work its way through the judicial system. Your case will be assigned a judge and prosecutor, it will be indicted or accused, you will have to file motions and review evidence, deal with court dates and prepare for a trial or another resolution. This process takes months or years, but there are so many things you can do in the meantime to put your case in the best position to protect you and your future. Trying to handle all this without an attorney is like deciding to operate on yourself instead of going to surgeon. Sure, you could try to do it, but the results will almost certainly be a total disaster, and maybe even ruin your life.