What does it “look like” to get arrested? Do the police storm into your home while you’re eating dinner with your family? Will an officer chase you down a crowded city street as you are walking into your job?
No, getting arrested isn’t always like a scene from a television crime drama. Strange as it sounds, sometimes law enforcement has outstanding arrest warrants on people who have no idea their names are on a “wanted” list.
Imagine that you’re driving through town like you would on any regular day. Then you get pulled over for a traffic violation—maybe speeding a few miles per hour over the speed limit. You tell yourself, “A traffic ticket isn’t great, but it’s not the end of the world.”
The police officer goes to the cruiser to run your license.
Suddenly, you’re being asked to get out of the car and place your hands on the hood. You’re under arrest, and you didn’t even know you had an outstanding warrant.
Don’t you wish you could have known? And how do warrants work, anyway?
The Basics of Arrest Warrants
An arrest warrant is an official document that says what the alleged crime and is names the wanted person. In some cases, the warrant lists the names of more than one wanted person. The arrest warrant will have a date and some basic facts that say what the person is accusing of doing.
Who issues arrest warrants?
In South Carolina, police can fill out documents called affidavits, which are sworn statements, to present to a judge. If the Judge determines there are enough facts to issue an arrest warrant, the Judge will sign the arrest warrant in the county where they have jurisdiction. A signed warrant issued by a judge or magistrate becomes an active warrant. Active warrants authorize any law enforcement officer to arrest the wanted person or persons named in the warrant or warrants. Additionally, Bench warrants can be issued for missing court dates, not paying fines, or failing to appear for court.
Why would you have a warrant out for your arrest?
There could be an arrest warrant with your name on it if you are accused of a crime (see more on this below). There might be other types of warrants associated with you, such as a:
- Bench warrant: Judges issue bench warrants for a couple of reasons. One is when a defendant is a no-show at a scheduled court appearance, called “failure to appear.” The other is to bring in a subpoenaed witness or a person who refused to comply with a court order.
- Civil (non-criminal) warrant: A warrant issued on behalf of an individual who files a civil summons against another person. Civil simply means non-criminal. This is different from felony or misdemeanor criminal warrants issued in the name of the State.
- Search warrant: Judges issue search warrants to authorize police to search a person’s property or belongings for evidence of a crime.
How are arrest warrants issued?
- A law enforcement officer drafts an arrest warrant with some facts about the alleged crime. The officer must swear to the facts in the arrest warrant (called an affidavit). The arrest warrant should have a clear description of the charge(s) and identify the individual(s) involved in the alleged crime.
- The law enforcement officer appears before a judge to seek the arrest of a person or persons suspected of a crime.
- The judge determines whether there’s probable cause to arrest the person accused of the crime.
- If the Judge determines there is enough probable cause to issue the arrest warrant, then the judge signs the warrant.
- Finally, law enforcement “serves” the warrant on the accused and arrests him/her.
What should you do if there’s a warrant out for your arrest?
You can always check to see if there are any warrants out for you, and that process is explained below. In your search, suppose you find out that there’s an active warrant with your name on it, but the police have not arrested you—yet. Now what?
What you don’t want to do is “wait and see.” How would you like to be surprised one day by a police officer wielding handcuffs? Probably not at all.
Furthermore, you may not want to turn yourself in at the police department or sheriff’s office and end up stuck in jail.
What you should do is consult with a criminal defense attorney right away. An experienced attorney can advise you about your options under the law and answer any questions you may have. They can also negotiate for your surrender on terms that are more favorable to you.
Common Questions About Arrest Warrants in South Carolina
1. How long do arrest warrants last?
An arrest warrant lasts until it is “served” by the arresting officer, meaning the accused individual receives the warrant and gets arrested.
2. Do arrest warrants expire?
No, arrest warrants do not expire. Arrest warrants do not “go away” the older they get. The problem does not disappear until the warrant is served or the accused turns him/herself in to the police.
3. Do arrest warrants appear on background checks?
There’s a good chance that an arrest warrant will appear on a background check. However, it could depend on how thoroughly an employer or organization is digging into your background.
On the other hand, If you are arrested or turn yourself in, the arrest will definitely appear on background checks.
4. Are arrest warrants public?
Yes, arrest warrants are public record. Anyone who wants to find active warrants can do so—if they know where to look. Some county sheriff offices provide warrant lists on their websites. You can also go to www.sled.gov to see what shows up on your own criminal background records check. Keep in mind this type of background check is likely limited to SC crimes and may only show arrests and convictions. It may not show if you have an active warrant.
5. How can I find out if there is an arrest warrant out for me?
One way to see if there’s an arrest warrant out for you is to search your name on one of the state records websites. For example, you can run a search for active warrants on South Carolina Arrests.
Alternatively, if you know what county your warrant would be in, you could call the court clerk, the Sheriff’s Department, Police Department, or search the public records at the county courthouse. As mentioned above, some county sheriff offices provide warrant lists on their websites.
6. Can the IRS issue arrest warrants?
No, the IRS cannot issue arrest warrants. The IRS can submit evidence to a judge. If there is enough evidence to suggest criminal activity, then a judge may sign an arrest warrant and issue a criminal summons.
7. Can arrest warrants be dropped?
Arrest warrants can be rescinded by law enforcement or the prosecutor. In most cases the only way to make an arrest warrant “disappear” is to address it. You should consult with an attorney to determine the best way to deal with the issue.
If you decide to turn yourself in, be prepared to possibly pay bail or bond yourself out of jail. Otherwise, you could be held until your case goes to court.
8. Do arrest warrants cross state lines?
Yes, if there is a warrant out for you in one state, you could be arrested for it in another state. Then the arresting law enforcement agency would extradite you—return you—to the state that issued the warrant.
Whether that scenario plays out depends on several factors, including how serious the nature of the warrant is. If there is a felony warrant out on you, the chances are higher that out-of-state officials will follow through on the warrant.
Don’t leave your future up to chance.
If there’s a warrant for your arrest in South Carolina, consider discussing your case with a criminal defense attorney. You want someone on your side who has experience with these matters.
As a criminal defense lawyer and former prosecutor, Susan Williams may guide you through this process that you may be unfamiliar with. She can help you find out what you’re up against. Contact our legal team with this online form, or call 843-607-9800 to schedule a free consultation.