When a person commits a crime but is not arrested in the course of committing an unlawful act, the courts can issue a warrant authorizing the police to arrest and charge the suspect with a crime. There are several different types of warrants, and felony arrest warrants are issued for felony crimes.
How Felony Arrest Warrants Work
Unless you have been caught while committing a crime, law enforcement agents need permission to detain you. This permission usually comes in the form of an arrest warrant issued by the court. A judge will issue a felony warrant if law enforcement officials show probable cause that a felony was committed. They must also have reasonable suspicion that you are the person who committed the crime.
Unlike some warrants, felony warrants don't usually expire. They can remain in effect for years or decades, until police arrest the suspect or the court issues a countermanding order, an order revoking the warrant. Some jurisdictions may revoke a warrant if you contact them to arrange to surrender.
Also, unlike many warrants, felony warrants can be served anywhere, not just in a specific geographic area. If the warrant is served in a different state, the issuing state must request extradition, that is, return of the defendant to the issuing state.
Felony Warrants Must Be Specific
The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution protects people from wrongful arrest. Although the process does not always work perfectly, the rules for issuing an arrest warrant attempt to ensure the correct person is charged with the crime. A felony warrant must, at a minimum, contain this information:
- The name of the suspect or, if not known, a description clear enough to allow police to identify the suspect while minimizing the risk of arresting someone else
- A detailed description of the crime
- The signature of the issuing judge
If you learn that there has been a felony warrant issued in your name, it is a good idea to talk with a criminal lawyer who can help you arrange to turn yourself in. Although it depends on the crime, self-surrender is more likely to allow you to resolve the issue and eventually return to a normal life. Living with a felony warrant hanging over your head can severely restrict your freedom, since you will always worry about someone discovering the warrant and turning you in.