Limitations on arrest warrants

Written by rebekah worsham
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Limitations on arrest warrants
There is more than one type of warrant. Therefore it is important to recognise the difference. (gyrophare image by Pascal Perinelle from

Many types of warrants are used in the legal system. Some warrants expire, while others do not. Therefore, it is important to know the differences among the various types for a better understanding of the legal system and the properties of specific warrants.

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Search Warrant

A search warrant is a court order signed by a judge which authorises law enforcement officers to search for specific objects or materials in a specific location at a specified time. For a judge to issue a search warrant, investigating officers must show cause or valid reasons for the search. Due to the time sensitivity, if a search warrant is not executed within the specified period it expires. It is then illegal for any investigator to search the location without first obtaining another warrant.

Limitations on arrest warrants
Search warrants must be used within the designated time frame or the search warrant will expire. (old spyglass image by Charles Taylor from

Civil Warrant

A civil warrant is commonly issued in small claims court civil suits. These are good only in a specified jurisdiction, whereas criminal warrants are generally good throughout an entire state. A civil warrant is basically an order signed by a judge that requires an individual to appear in a civil matter; they are rarely enforced. Normally if the specified person fails to appear he automatically loses the case and the other party obtains a civil judgment. The case, along with the civil warrant, is then closed. However, a judge may hold the subject in contempt of court. This is considered a crime and the judge may then issue a criminal warrant, which is an entirely different matter.

Limitations on arrest warrants
Civil warrants differ from search warrants or criminal warrants. (courthouse image by pearlguy from

Criminal Arrest Warrants

Criminal warrants are orders signed by a judge to detain a person suspected of committing a specific crime. An arrest warrant is granted when probable cause is offered that a crime has been committed by the person named. Other warrants that may lead to arrest are alias warrants and bench warrants. Alias warrants are issued when a defendant fails to appear in court after a citation has been issued, such as failure to appear for a speeding ticket. A bench warrant is typically issued after a defendant has been before a judge, but fails to appear for the next scheduled court appearance. Regardless of the reason for the criminal arrest warrant, the warrant will not expire until the matter is resolved and closed by the issuing judge. In other words, arrest warrants do not expire even if the statute of limitations on the crime itself expires. They must be revoked by the issuing judge once the arrest has been made or a defendant's attorney may file a motion with the issuing judge to have it removed if the statute of limitations on the crime itself has passed.

Limitations on arrest warrants
Criminal arrest warrants never expire. (handcuffs image by William Berry from

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