Will My Arrest Warrant Expire?

Some people have a tendency to ignore bad things, and believe that somehow, against all rational experience, problems will go away on their own. The biggest problem with this approach to life is that, in most cases, a problem ignored is a problem that simply gets bigger. But fear and procrastination holds them back, getting them through each day with increasing anxiety that things will catch up to them. This is not a good way to live.

An arrest warrant, which is signed by a judge or a grand jury, declares that someone has a charge against them, and that law enforcement is authorized to detain and arrest them if and when they come across them. While an arrest warrant doesn’t normally mean that the police are actively searching for them, any interaction with law enforcement will probably result in the warrant being discovered and detention taking place.

We sometimes get the question – if an arrest warrant was issued against someone a long time ago, what are the chances that it is still in place?

The answer is – it depends.

The better answer is – find out.

Felony Warrants vs. Misdemeanor Warrants

It depends on the nature of the charge. While there are some differences from state to state, most arrest warrants that are associated with a felony charge never expire. If you have avoided detainment after being involved in a serious crime in which you were identified, chances are that, even years or decades later, a routine stop by police will result in that warrant showing up and action being taken against you.

Misdemeanor warrants may be treated differently, with a 180 day or one year expiration date established when it was issued.  However, they can be re-issued with a simple request, so you can ‘t ever count on them going away just by waiting it out.

Your Information at Their Fingertips

Local law enforcement along with all other state and federal criminal justice organizations, make use of the NCIC (National Crime Information Center) database to search for warrants and related records on people that they stop. The use of the system is simple and fast – if you’ve ever been pulled over or gone through a routine vehicle stop, your license was probably run through the system to take a look at outstanding warrants. Of course, this doesn’t happen every time, so just because you’ve had some interaction with a police officer, doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re in the clear.

Even then, a positive result from NCIC still doesn’t count, on its own, as “probable cause” for an arrest. The inquiring officer (i.e. the cop that pulled you over) needs to contact with the agency that submitted the warrant to confirm that the information is accurate. If it is, the police can take make an arrest.

Fork in the Road

If you suspect that you may have a warrant, you have two choices.  You can ignore it, and hope each day isn’t the day that you get caught, and suffer the chronic stress of never knowing if you’re going to sleep in your own bed, or you can confirm with certainty that you do or do not have such a warrant.

A visit to a local police station will give you the chance to learn if there is an outstanding warrant, and your willingness to proactively take steps to resolve this may work in your favor if there are charges to be faced, although you may need to make some arrangements for what will happen to you and your family if you end up being detained.  Better yet, working with a bail bondsman can make it easier to manage, since they can work quickly with the police to process the warrant and secure your release (which will happen under all but the most serious of circumstances), after which you can make the positive steps of paying fines, attending court proceedings and otherwise clearing your name or taking responsibility for your past actions.

Get your head out of the sand. Problems like these don’t go away on their own, and you’re always better off if you take decisive steps to resolve it on your own terms.