Arrest warrants are issued to allow the police to identify and locate persons who need to be arrested. These are usually persons who have previously been arrested, released on bail, but then failed to make a subsequent court appearance after their release. These are very specific warrants that apply only to one person.
In contrast, a search warrant allows the police to enter premises such as a plot of land, a residence, or other buildings, in search of evidence or contraband that might be used in an upcoming trial. The item to be seized and the property to be searched must be specifically listed in the search warrant. Police searches are then limited to what is indicated in the warrant after it’s approved by a judge
Besides these major differences in function and purpose, some differences between search warrants and arrest warrants include:
- Arrest warrants may be issued after a person was already arrested; search warrants area usually issued prior to any arrests being made.
- Similarly, arrest warrants can be issued after charges have been issued (i.e., after an indictment); search warrants are typically issued before any charges are actually brought or before anyone is arrested.
- Arrest warrants can be valid for long periods of time, sometimes months or years, while search warrants expire more quickly.
For both search warrants and arrest warrants, police need an acceptable level of probable cause before they can obtain the warrant. That is, they need to have information coming from a reliable source that the person or property might be instrumental in an upcoming trial.
Violations of warrants can result in various consequences. For instance, evidence obtained from a search without a warrant will sometimes be excluded from trial later on. A violation of an arrest warrant can often form the basis for a person’s release.
Warrants can often be highly technical documents that can affect a criminal case. You may need to hire a lawyer if you believe that an issue with a warrant might be affecting your case. Your criminal defense attorney can review the laws in your area to determine if there have been any violations of your personal rights. Also, your lawyer can represent you if you need to appear before a judge in a court of law.