Law enforcement officers in Florida can arrest a person without an arrest warrant if that person commits a crime that a police officer personally observes. Arrests for driving under the influence, for example, are the most common type of unwarranted arrests.
But if a person is merely suspected of committing a crime, and when the police and prosecutors have “reasonable cause” for that suspicion, in most instances, police and prosecutors will request an arrest warrant from a judge.
An arrest warrant – which is also called a “capias” warrant in the state of Florida – is a court order, issued by a judge, which authorizes law enforcement officers to take into custody someone who is suspected of a criminal violation. Arrest warrants in this state may be issued by judges for a variety of criminal violations.
In Palm Beach County, for example, arrest warrants are issued most frequently by judges for the following reasons:
– a failure to appear (or “FTA”)
– a felony charge
– a violation of probation (or “VOP”)
WHAT IS THE NUMBER ONE REASON FOR ARREST WARRANTS?
Failure to appear in court is the top reason why arrest warrants are issued in Palm Beach County. If a person is cited for a first- or second-degree misdemeanor or for a violation, rather than making a formal arrest at that time, a police officer may instead issue a notice to appear (“NTA”).
If the arrest is made, the booking officer may issue the NTA if the arrestee does not appear to be a danger to the public, is employed or is in school, has ties to the community, and is not wanted in connection with any other criminal matter.
Anyone who receives a notice to appear must sign a copy of the notice. That signature confirms that the notice has been received and that the suspect knows where and when a court appearance is required. When a notice to appear has been issued, a failure to appear automatically generates an arrest warrant.
Anyone who receives a notice to appear and who then fails to appear will have two legal problems instead of one. If that person is you, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney and obtain legal representation immediately. You should also be prepared to turn yourself in and to trust your attorney to fight for justice on your behalf.
If you have failed to appear in court as scheduled, you know it, but in other situations a person may or may not know if an arrest warrant has been issued. Felony arrest warrants in Florida are generally sealed – that is, kept from public knowledge – for six months or until an arrest is made.
That’s a precaution designed to keep felony suspects from fleeing or otherwise evading arrest by learning that an arrest warrant has been issued. If you want to learn if there is an active felony warrant for your arrest, once again, you should be prepared to turn yourself in and to trust an experienced West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF THE WARRANT NAMES YOU?
So, precisely what should you do when there is an outstanding warrant for your arrest? First, you must meet with an experienced criminal defense attorney so that you are adequately represented from the start.
In some extremely rare cases, and depending on the details of the case, it may be possible to avoid the arrest process and – accompanied by your attorney – go directly before a judge. Some judges will not allow the arrest process to be skipped, however.
In the state of Florida, the law requires arrest warrants to include the following:
– the nature of the offense
– the name of the person to be arrested (or the best possible description in the case of an unidentified suspect)
– the order to law enforcement authorities to make the arrest
– the date of the warrant
– the county where the warrant is issued
– the signature of the judge
– whether the offense is or isn’t bailable, and if it is, the bail amount
If the offense is bailable, in most cases it will be possible for a defendant to bail out of jail immediately after the arrest by posting the bail amount and by agreeing to appear for a scheduled court date. If the offense is not bailable, a good Florida criminal defense attorney may be able in some cases to schedule a bond hearing on your behalf and may be able to persuade a judge to change that decision.
Again, a great deal will hinge on the particular nature and circumstances of the alleged crime and on the defendant’s previous criminal history, if any.
PRECISELY WHAT DOES AN ARREST WARRANT AUTHORIZE?
Especially if you are the target of an arrest warrant, it’s important to know that in most cases, an arrest is the only action that an arrest warrant authorizes. In the state of Florida, the general rule is that the police cannot search someone’s home or property without a search warrant – rather than an arrest warrant – or without specific consent from the homeowner or property owner. The law allows for some precise exceptions, but in most cases a warrantless search without consent will be considered illegal by Florida courts.
Of course, based on their right to protect themselves, law enforcement officers have the authority to search your “person” (your body and clothing) when making an arrest, but that authority is limited exclusively to searching the person and does not extend to searching residences, vehicles, businesses, or other properties. Always let your attorney know right away if you believe that the police exceeded their legal authority when they arrested you and conducted an illegal search.
If someone attempts to flee the state of Florida to avoid an arrest warrant, that person must assume that the state of Florida will pursue and attempt to extradite. If you are stopped by the police in any of the other forty-nine states for any reason while you are a fugitive from justice, you will very likely be arrested and returned to Florida. If you attempt to leave the country as a fugitive and you are stopped at a border checkpoint, you will be detained.
When an arrest warrant is issued, it’s always best to resolve the matter as quickly as possible. West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney Frederick C. Hutchinson explains that, “a warrant can be handled in a number of efficient ways by a competent and knowledgeable attorney such that the underlying case and the warrant can often be resolved at the same time without the client having to sit in jail.”
Attorney Hutchinson that suggests anyone with an arrest warrant should “hire a knowledgeable attorney before simply turning yourself in at the jail and learn what your rights are and how you can deal with the warrant situation in a fair and efficient manner.”