There are three main ways a person in California can find out if he/she is subject to an outstanding warrant. These are by:
- searching the sheriff’s website or the court’s website for the county that might have issued the warrant,
- searching the Superior Court of California’s website, or
- running a criminal background check.
Arrest warrants are typically issued when police officers or a district attorney suspects that the person named in the warrant has committed a crime.
Bench warrants are issued if a person is in “contempt of court.” This might occur if the person named in the warrant:
- failed to appear for a court date or court proceeding,
- failed to pay a fine, and/or
- failed to obey any other court order.
If a person learns that he/she is the subject of a warrant, it is critical that the person contact a California criminal defense attorney.
How can I find out if I have an active warrant in California?
There are three main ways in which a person can find out if he/she is subject to a warrant. The first applies when the person knows what California county may have issued the warrant. In this case, the person can visit that county sheriff’s office website or the superior court’s website for that county and run a warrant search.
For example, in Orange County, a person can search the Orange County Sheriff’s Department website.
People can also use the California Arrests website, which will indicate if a warrant was issued by a given county.
- if a person suspects a warrant is active in Los Angeles County, he/she can search here, and
- if a person suspects a warrant is active in San Diego County, he/she can search here.
The second way to find out information about a warrant is to search the appropriate Superior Court of California’s website and run a warrant search. Here, a person will most likely have to enter the following information:
- his/her full name,
- a date of birth,
- a driver’s license number, and
- a court case number.
Finally, people can always run a criminal background check on themselves to determine if they are the subject of a warrant. A person can do this online by searching:
- public records,
- criminal records, and
- government agency records.
A person can also pay a local service or a third party to perform a background check.
No matter which path the person takes, the background check will show if a particular person:
- is subject to a warrant,
- is suspected of criminal activity,
- is exposed to potential criminal liability,
- is wanted by law enforcement agencies or law enforcement officers, or
- has violated a certain California Penal Code section (e.g., Penal Code 240 PC, the State’s law on assault).
Note that once a judge issues a warrant, a clerk of the court enters it into the applicable court or law enforcement website. These are accessible via the United States Department of Justice, DOJ’s website. This means any police officer in the nation can access this information and determine if there is an active warrant out on someone.
What is the difference between an arrest warrant and a bench warrant?
There are two types of warrants in the State of California that give police departments the authority to arrest someone. These are:
- arrest warrants, and
- bench warrants.
A California arrest warrant authorizes law enforcement officers to arrest and detain a person that they suspect committed a crime outside of an officer’s presence.1
Judges issue arrest warrants by order of the court based on:
- evidence presented to them by a peace officer and/or a District Attorney, or
- following a grand jury indictment.2
In order to be valid in a California court, an arrest warrant must include:
- the name of the defendant,
- the criminal charges which he/she is accused of committing based on probable cause,
- the time of issuance,
- the city or county of issuance,
- the signature and title of the judge, and
- the name of the court.3
Unlike an arrest warrant, a bench warrant is not issued based on suspected criminal activity. A bench warrant is most typically issued if a person:
- failed to appear for court,
- failed to pay a fine, and/or
- failed to obey any other court order.4
Note that deadly weapons should not be used upon arrestees unless necessary.
Also note a bench warrant generally does not expire. It will remain in effect until:
- recalled by the judge, or
- the person named in the warrant appears in court.
A search warrant is a third type of warrant in California. It does not give the police authority to arrest a person. Rather, the warrant allows the police to search:
- a person,
- a residence,
- a vehicle,
- a place of business, or
- any other specified area suspected of containing evidence of illegal activity.
Warrants have to outline the locations and personal property to be searched with reasonable particularity, and they must spell out the factual basis for the search. Search warrants have to be done within a limited time frame, usually a 10 day period. A search warrant may only be executed between 7AM and 10PM unless the court finds good cause to do it at any time of the day.5
What should I do if I have an active warrant?
If a person discovers that he/she is named in a warrant, it is critical for the party to immediately contact an experienced criminal defense attorney.
As to an arrest warrant, a defense lawyer can advise the person:
- whether he/she is truly named in a warrant,
- what the warrant is for, and
- the amount of bail.
Sometimes an attorney can even take the party directly to court and get the arrest warrant cleared without the person having to spend time in jail.
With regards to a bench warrant, it typically remains in effect until a person recalls it or quashes it. This is normally done when the person named in the warrant appears in court.
A person can have his attorney appear in court on the person’s behalf, provided that:
- the party failed to appear for a court appearance, or
- the party failed to make a payment in connection with a misdemeanor offense.
Please note that if a person appears in court in an attempt to clear a warrant, the judge does have the option to place the party in custody. Thus, a lawyer is important to help ensure that this does not happen.
We serve clients throughout California, such as Los Angeles, San Bernardino, San Diego, Orange County, and more. Contact us at our telephone number or the contact form on this page.
See our related article on protective orders (a.k.a. restraining orders).
- See California Penal Code sections 813-816 and 1427 PC.
- See same.
- California Penal Code 815; sometimes the warrant and affidavit are sealed pursuant to People v.Hobbs (California Supreme Court, 1994) 7 Cal.4th 948.
- See California Penal Code sections 978.5-981 PC.
- Under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution (and as Article 1 of the California Constitution), law enforcement may not conduct unreasonable searches and seizures. Unless there is a “warrant exception”, police officers in the United States require an arrest warrant in order to make an arrest or to execute a search warrant to conduct a search pursuant to a criminal investigation. The warrant affidavit by the police officer (affiant) is done under penalty of perjury. Officers must execute warrants in good faith, and there must be no tampering with the evidence. (Also see Evidence Code 1560 re. business records and related paraphernalia and PC 1524.3 re. service providers.); also see People of the State of California v. Escamilla, (California Court of Appeals, 1976) 65 Cal.App.3d 558, 562.