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What to Do When There’s a Warrant for Your Arrest

— August 4, 2023

If you believe that a warrant has been issued for your arrest, don’t delay. Seek legal assistance right away.

If a warrant for your arrest has been issued, it is natural to feel anxious and apprehensive about the future. Learning more about arrest warrants can help you navigate the legal system with greater confidence and minimize some of the worries that come along with potentially facing criminal allegations.

How do I know if there is a warrant for my arrest?

Action films leave the impression that a traffic stop gone wrong is the only way to find out you have a warrant. In reality, there are much simpler (and more intentional) ways to determine whether a warrant has been issued for your arrest.

For example: 

Contact an attorney

The best thing you can do if you suspect that there’s a warrant for your arrest is to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who can confirm whether a warrant exists and offer guidance on what to do next based on the facts of your situation.

Contact the municipality

Call the sheriff’s department or county clerk in the location where you suspect an arrest warrant has been issued.

Use the New Jersey court system’s website

You may be able to find out whether a warrant has been issued using the Find-a-Case search tool on the New Jersey court system’s website. This method is private and simple to use, but note that not every municipality lists its warrants online.

What is the difference between “bench” and “arrest” warrants?

Many of our clients express confusion about the distinctions between bench warrants and arrest warrants. While both warrants are issued by a judge, there are some key differences to keep in mind. 

Arrest warrants 

Police officers request an arrest warrant when someone is suspected of committing a crime. An arrest warrant typically leads to an arrest and criminal proceedings. 

Bench warrants

Bench warrants are issued when someone fails to meet a court-ordered obligation. For example, a bench warrant could be issued against you for failing to appear in court. 

A bench warrant can result in fines and—if left unaddressed—an arrest warrant for contempt of court.

How do I determine whether a warrant is valid?

In New Jersey, a warrant for arrest can be issued for a variety of reasons, as long as the issuing judicial officer is satisfied that probable cause exists. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you determine the validity of an arrest warrant against you.

What information should an arrest warrant include? 

An arrest warrant typically includes: 

The name of the defendant

The arrest warrant should contain your name—but a misspelled name won’t make an arrest warrant invalid. In fact, an arrest warrant is still valid without a name altogether, provided that it includes enough information for law enforcement officers to identify you.

Original jurisdiction

The arrest warrant should identify the court to which you are to be brought following arrest. 

Signature from a judge or court administrator

The judicial officer must sign the arrest warrant and document the following: 

  • Date
  • Time
  • Your name
  • The complaint number
  • The basis for the probable cause determination
  • Any specific terms or other details that are relevant

The warrant should also note whether there are any special rules about your possible release (i.e., staying away from a certain person or wearing a tracking bracelet on your ankle). 

Should you turn yourself in? 

An arrest warrant can have wide-ranging, long-lasting implications for every area of your life. It’s best to address the warrant as soon as possible. Once you find out the reason for your warrant, you or your attorney should contact the courthouse where the warrant was issued to set up a time to turn yourself in. 

What to know before turning yourself in

Lawyer at desk writing; image by advogadoaguilar, via
Lawyer at desk writing; image by advogadoaguilar, via

Before turning yourself in, prepare to spend some time away from home. Arrange for a trustworthy person to care for your children and/or pets, and contact your employer to secure at least two days off of work.

When you turn yourself in, provide your name and address to the police officers if they request it. Otherwise, exercise your right to remain silent until your criminal defense attorney is present. Even answering questions that seem harmless could give the prosecution information that could be used against you in court. 

The New Jersey pretrial detention system

In 2017, New Jersey passed significant reform that effectively replaced the bail bond system with a risk-based system.

After your arrest, the court will decide whether you should be detained or released based on your Public Safety Assessment (PSA) score, which accounts for your criminal history, the crime you’ve been accused of, your risk of committing an additional offense, and your risk of failing to appear in court. 

It’s important to note that the PSA system is not perfect, and there have been cases where individuals have been incorrectly assessed. If you believe that you’ve been unfairly detained, your attorney can challenge the assessment and advocate for your release. 

Even if the court decides to let you go based on your PSA score, the prosecutor may still file a motion to detain you until your trial. In this case, there will be a detention hearing. At the hearing, the judge will hear the prosecuting attorney’s argument as to why you should remain in jail. Having a criminal defense attorney present can help you demonstrate the reasons you should be released. 

Is there an arrest warrant against you? Contact an attorney.

If you believe that a warrant has been issued for your arrest, don’t delay. Seek legal assistance right away. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can investigate the evidence against you, gather additional evidence in support of your defense, and negotiate with the prosecuting attorney to help you to navigate the legal system. The sooner the warrant is addressed, the greater your chance at a favorable resolution.

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