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Limitations on arrest warrants

Updated March 23, 2017

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.

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.

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.

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.

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About the Author

Rebekah Worsham began writing professionally in 2007 and has been published on eHow. She has expertise in the fields of law, parapsychology and the treatment of drug and alcohol addiction. She holds a degrees in law from Beckfield College.