An arrest warrant is a type of order issued by a judge and given to law enforcement that allows law enforcement to arrest a person for an alleged crime that they have committed. Before an arrest warrant can be issued, the district attorney or a law enforcement officer must provide evidence of probable cause for the arrest. Probable cause for an arrest refers to local law enforcement having reason to believe that the person they wish to arrest has committed a crime.

The warrant must be supported by an affidavit that attests to the truth of the gathered information, in order to show probable cause that the person in question should be taken into police custody.

The document itself will usually contain the name and location of the arrestee, as well as additional information that allows law enforcement to arrest the correct person. Law enforcement may arrest the person at any time and any place they may be located, unless the warrant includes specific restrictions.

Arrest warrants not only authorize law enforcement to arrest an individual, but also limited authority to enter that person’s home in order to make the arrest. However, if law enforcement wishes to search the home of the person they are authorized to arrest through the arrest warrant, they will need to obtain a separate search warrant to do so. The warrant for a person’s arrest may remain valid for several years.

What is a John Doe Warrant?

Additionally, the individual wanted for arrest does not need to have knowledge of the warrant in order for it to be valid. Typically, the wanted person only finds out that there is a warrant for their arrest at the time of actual arrest.

An arrest warrant does not need to contain a person’s name. This is known as a John Doe Warrant, and is an arrest warrant for an individual whose name is not known by law enforcement. This type of warrant may be issued by a judge for a person known by sight, but not name. The warrant may also be issued when a crime scene yields DNA evidence of a suspect.

What Should I Know About John Doe Warrants?

John Doe Warrants are not valid in every state in the US. Additionally, the federal government does not allow nor recognize this type of warrant. A few states allow John Doe Warrants due to the fact that the warrant still provides a sufficient description of a suspect in a crime. It is assumed that this description may be used, with reasonable certainty, to later identify the name of the person in question.

An outstanding warrant is not the same as a John Doe Warrant. An outstanding arrest warrant refers to a valid arrest warrant originally issued months or even years ago. The warrant is still valid because the person has not yet been arrested. Reasons for a valid but outstanding arrest warrant could include:

  • The wanted individual does not know about the warrant, and therefore cannot turn themselves in;
  • The individual is successfully evading law enforcement; and/or
  • The law enforcement agency responsible for serving the warrant has not yet served the warrant.

The main difference between an outstanding warrant and a John Doe Warrant is that law enforcement knows the name of the individual whose arrest is outstanding; law enforcement does not have a name to put on the warrant, hence the name John Doe. An outstanding warrant is for someone known to the police, whereas a John Doe Warrant is for someone who is not known to the police but is still a suspect in a criminal act.

A John Doe Warrant may be an out of state arrest warrant. The warrant for an unknown individual may be issued in a state that is different from the state in which the suspect lives. An example of this would be if the crime was committed in Kentucky, but the suspect lives in Tennessee.

How Do I Find Out if There is a Warrant Out For My Arrest?

As previously mentioned, it is not uncommon for people to be unaware that there is a warrant for their arrest until the police show up to arrest them. For example, an arrest warrant can be issued if you do not respond to a jury summons or for a large amount of parking tickets that are being ignored. Also, as a general rule, arrest warrants do not expire. Thus, an arrest warrant may be in effect for decades after being issued.

If you suspect there may be a warrant out for your arrest, then you should immediately consult with an attorney as they may be able to contact the police on your behalf in order to determine whether a warrant has been issued for your name. There may also be databases online maintained by the county or sheriff’s office that lists outstanding warrants.

It is imperative that you do not ignore any warrants issued for your arrest. There must be probable cause to issue the warrant, and as such, focusing on probable cause may form the basis for challenging the warrant. Additionally, the warrant may be found to be invalid if it does not contain sufficient descriptive information to identify the right person.

Do I Need an Attorney for Help With a John Doe Warrant?

If you are arrested with a warrant that does not actually contain your name, then you may be able to contest your arrest. In any case, you should immediately consult with a skilled and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney upon being arrested on suspicion of committing a crime.

An experienced criminal defense attorney can determine if you have any actual warrants out for your arrest, and help you determine your best legal options. Additionally, the attorney can determine if any defenses are available to your case, as well as represent you in court as needed.