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Turning Yourself in for a Misdemeanor Warrant – How to do It?
If you are facing an arrest warrant for a misdemeanor offense, and the state has already filed criminal charges against you, you can usually turn yourself in by contacting the court in charge of the matter and scheduling an arraignment.
If the state has not filed criminal charges, you can turn yourself in by going to the applicable police department. In either event, you should consult with a criminal defense attorney for help.
Note that upon turning yourself, you will usually be released on your own recognizance, meaning you will not have to face jail time while waiting for a future court date.
Misdemeanor warrants are court documents that authorize law enforcement officers to arrest the person named in the warrant. A judge issues a misdemeanor warrant based on probable cause that the person named in the warrant committed a misdemeanor offense.
1. What to do if facing a misdemeanor arrest warrant and criminal charges?
Sometimes a judge issues an arrest warrant after the state has filed criminal charges against the person named in the warrant.
In these cases, you can contact or go to the courthouse that is hearing the case and schedule an arraignment with the clerk’s office. This act is sometimes referred to as a “warrant walk-in.”
An arraignment is usually the first court hearing in a criminal case. At an arraignment hearing, the defendant:
enters a plea (guilty, not guilty, or no contest), and
a future court date is set.1
Once the hearing is complete, the judge will normally release you on your own recognizance. An “own recognizance” release lets someone get out of jail after an arrest or arraignment without having to post bail. Also known as an “O.R. release,” it keeps you out of jail solely based on your promise to appear in court.2
Note, though, that if you fail to appear in court for your future court date, the judge can issue a bench warrant for your arrest. The warrant authorizes the police to arrest you and bring you to court for your required appearance. The willful failure to appear in court is, in and of itself, a crime that can lead to additional criminal charges.
2. What if an arrest warrant and no criminal charges?
If a judge issues an arrest warrant, and the state has not yet filed criminal charges against you, then you can turn yourself in by going to the police department.
When you do, you should plan on dressing appropriately and make sure to bring basic identification documents (for example, a driver’s license).
While the police will usually release you on your own recognizance after booking you, it is still a good idea to bring money to the police station in case you need to post bail. Note that sometimes a misdemeanor warrant will list the specific amount of bail in the case. If you cannot pay the bail amount, you can try to secure a bail bond before going to the police.
When it comes to speaking with police officers, note that Miranda rights are warnings the police must give before they question someone after an arrest. These warnings typically begin with the statement, “You have the right to remain silent.”3
If police issue Miranda rights, you can invoke the right to remain silent and ask for an attorney for help. It’s never a good idea for a suspect to submit to police questioning without an attorney present.
3. Should you speak with an attorney if turning yourself in on a misdemeanor warrant?
Yes. People facing an active warrant for a misdemeanor should speak with a criminal defense lawyer for help.
contacting the court and scheduling an arraignment,
representing the person in front of the judge and district attorney,
putting the person in contact with a bail bondsman (if necessary), and
working to reduce the amount of time the person spends in jail.
Note that most private attorneys and law firms offer free consultations, which means people facing a warrant can get their questions answered for free.
If a person cannot afford an attorney, he/she may qualify for a public defender to get appointed to the criminal case. Most states and counties have a public defender’s office with a website that provides guidance on whether a person can qualify for free representation.4
4. What is a misdemeanor warrant?
Misdemeanor warrants are a type of warrant that authorizes the police to arrest a person on suspicion of committing a misdemeanor offense.5
A judge will issue the warrant only upon a showing of probable cause that the party named in the warrant committed a crime.6
Misdemeanor warrants are issued in criminal cases involving misdemeanor offenses, as opposed to infractions or crimes in felony cases.
Note that a misdemeanor crime is often punishable by up to one year in county jail (as opposed to time in state prison).
5. How do you know if there is a warrant for your arrest?
You can typically perform a search to determine if there is a warrant out for your arrest.
Note that once a judge issues an arrest warrant, the clerk of court enters it into a particular website (which may differ depending on the facts of a case). People, then, can perform a search into these websites to see if they are subject to an arrest warrant.
In particular, you can search either:
your local sheriff’s website,
your local court’s website, or
the website of a state superior court.
You can also run a criminal background check on yourself to see if a warrant is pending.
People can also always consult with a criminal defense attorney to learn the status of an arrest warrant.
Note that the rules governing an arraignment are usually dictated by state law. See, for example, Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.160.
See, for example, California Penal Code sections 813-816 and 1427.
About the Author
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.