In action movies, police encounters are almost always included. One of the most common scenarios that are often portrayed is when a group of officers knock on the door (or, to be more dramatic and suspenseful, literally kick down the door), introduce themselves, and put whoever is at the other side under arrest. If you've seen enough of these scenes, you're probably familiar with the Miranda warning by now.
An arrest scenario in real life is quite like the movies -- minus the door kicking, most of the time. There are different causes or grounds that lead to a person's arrest. For instance, if a police officer personally witnessed a crime being committed, then it is the officer's duty to arrest the person. This goes for robbery, assault, vandalism, or DUI cases. Meanwhile, if the police officer suspects that a crime happened outside of his presence, then the officer may go to the magistrate and request that a warrant of arrest be issued to the suspect.
To further understand arrest warrants, California Penal Code PC 813 listed the standards, definitions, and contexts which courts and police officers alike may use as guidance. Under the said statute, an arrest warrant allows law enforcement officers to arrest or detain a suspect that they reasonably believe committed a crime outside of their presence. However, before an arrest warrant is issued, the following requirements must be fulfilled:
- There are probable cause or sufficient facts to believe that the suspect might have committed the crime. Remember, having reasonable grounds to arrest is more than a mere hunch based on some string of events.
- A sworn statement to the court detailing the crime and evidence to support that the suspect likely committed the crime.
Meanwhile, the process usually starts with a formal complaint either by a victim (if applicable) or the police department. If, and only if, the magistrate is satisfied with the statement and the evidence used to support the belief, it is only then that an arrest warrant will be issued. However, an arrest warrant can also be issued even without the aforementioned elements. A grand jury indictment, for instance, will be enough to issue such type of warrant.
Furthermore, there are also elements that constitute a valid warrant of arrest. A simple spelling mistake or an omitted piece of information on the warrant can completely undermine its validity. With that said, a valid arrest warrant is one that has the following:
- The complete and correct name of the alleged suspect;
- The offense that was allegedly committed;
- The date and time when the warrant was issued;
- The city or county where the warrant was issued;
- The signature of the magistrate, judge, justice, or other issuing authority provided that the title of his/her agency and issuing court is included; and
- The time and place wherein the accused is expected to appear.
Once a warrant of arrest is issued, the officer in charge has the legal responsibility to execute the instructions or orders stated in the warrant. It must be executed within a reasonable period and without unnecessary delay to uphold the accused person's right to a speedy trial.
How to Handle an Arrest Warrant in California
There are cases where a person only discovers an outstanding warrant of arrest after identifying himself to the police during a traffic stop. This is quite a terrifying experience, but if you do know you have a warrant for your arrest, you are highly encouraged to do any of the following:
- Voluntarily surrender (with the advice of your attorney);
- Stay in the state; and
- When asked to identify yourself and you decide to answer, make sure to provide the correct information.
Legal Defenses Against Arrest Warrants
There's quite a lot of misconception with regard to challenging or fighting an arrest warrant. One of which is the belief that an officer who does not read your Miranda rights will automatically make your arrest invalid. This is untrue, it will only prohibit the prosecutor from using your words against you in court. Aside from that, there are a few legal ways to challenge an arrest warrant. Keep in mind that these steps do not guarantee a complete retraction of the warrant.
- The warrant misspelled your name or is missing necessary details;
- The execution of the warrant was unlawful; and/or
- The officers waited too long to arrest you and bring you to court.
Indeed, handling an arrest warrant is tricky and complicated. However, hiring a criminal defense attorney will help you alleviate some burden. They can request for the retraction of the warrant before any penalties attach, or they can also negotiate to arrange for bail. Whichever action they take, know that your best interests are their top priority.
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