What Is a John Doe Warrant?

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 What Are Arrest Warrants and Search Warrants?

Warrants are written orders that are signed by a judge. A warrant authorizes law enforcement to conduct:

  • Searches;
  • Seizures; and
  • Arrests.

A court may only issue a search warrant when probable cause exists. Probable cause is a reasonable belief that an individual will commit or has committed a crime or other type of violation.

In other words, a court may only issue an arrest warrant when there is reason to believe that the individual engaged in or is engaging in criminal activity.

What is the Purpose of an Arrest Warrant?

An arrest warrant is an order which allows for the arrest of an individual who is named in the warrant. In order to obtain an arrest warrant, law enforcement must reasonably believe that the individual is engaged in, planning to engage in, or has already engaged in criminal activity.

The individual in the warrant may be a specific person. In instances where law enforcement does not know the identity of the individual, a warrant is required to describe what they look like, such as “around 5’11”, brown hair, glasses.”

Once law enforcement has an arrest warrant, they must locate and seize that individual. An arrest is considered a seizure of an individual.

Once the individual is arrested, law enforcement may conduct a search of the individual. This type of search is called a search that is incident to a lawful arrest, also referred to as an arrest search.

What is an Arrest Warrant?

As previously noted, an arrest warrant is an order which is issued by a court and provided to law enforcement which allows them to arrest an individual for an alleged crime which they have committed. Prior to an arrest warrant being issued, the district attorney or law enforcement officer is required to provide evidence of probable cause for the arrest.

An arrest warrant is required to be supported by an affidavit that attests to the truth of the information which was gathered in order to show probable cause that the individual listed should be taken into police custody. The arrest warrant document itself will typically contain the name and location of the arrestee as well as additional information which allows law enforcement to arrest the correct individual.

Law enforcement may arrest the individual at any time or any place where they are located unless the warrant includes specific restrictions. An arrest warrant authorizes law enforcement to arrest an individual and also provides limited authority to enter that individual’s home in order to make the arrest.

If, however, law enforcement wants to search the home of the individual who they are authorized to arrest through an arrest warrant, then they will be required to obtain a separate search warrant. The warrant for an individual’s arrest can remain valid for several years.

What is a John Doe Warrant?

The individual who is wanted for arrest is not required to have knowledge of the warrant in order for it to be valid. In most cases, the wanted individual only finds out there was a warrant for their arrest at the time they are actually arrested.

It is important to note that an arrest warrant is not required to contain the individual’s name. This type of warrant is called a John Doe warrant.

A John Doe warrant is an arrest warrant for an individual whose name is not known to law enforcement. These types of warrants may be issued by a court for an individual known by sight but not by name.

This type of warrant may also be issued when a crime scene yields DNA evidence of the suspect.

What Should I Know About John Doe Warrants?

A John Doe warrant is not valid in every state in the United States. In addition, the United States federal government does not permit or recognize this type of warrant.

There are a few states which allow John Doe warrants because they still provide a sufficient description of the suspect in a crime. It is assumed the description in the warrant may be used with reasonable certainty to later identify the name of the individual in question.

It is important that an outstanding warrant is not the same as a John Doe Warrant. Outstanding warrants are valid arrest warrants that were originally issued months or years earlier.

An outstanding warrant is still valid because the individual was not arrested. The reasons for a valid but outstanding arrest warrant may include:

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

The main difference between a John Doe warrant and an outstanding warrant is that law enforcement is aware of the name of the individual whose arrest is outstanding in an outstanding warrant and law enforcement does not have a name to put on a John Doe warrant; hence the term John Doe.

Outstanding warrants are for individuals who are known to the police. John Doe warrants, on the other hand, are for individuals who are not known to law enforcement but are still suspects in criminal acts.

John Doe warrants may also be out-of-state warrants. A warrant for an unknown individual can be issued in a state which is different from the state in which the suspect resides.

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

As previously noted, it is not uncommon for individuals to be unaware that there is a warrant out for their arrest until law enforcement shows up to arrest them. For example, an arrest warrant may be issued if an individual does not respond to a jury summons or for a large amount of parking tickets which have not been paid.

Generally, an arrest warrant does not expire. Therefore, an arrest warrant may be in effect for many years, even decades, after it was issued.

If an individual suspects that there may be a warrant out for their arrest, they should immediately consult with a lawyer. A lawyer may be able to contact law enforcement on an individual’s behalf to determine whether an arrest warrant has been issued in their name.

In addition, there may be databases online which are maintained by the county or sheriff’s office which lists outstanding warrants. It is very important that an individual does not ignore any warrants which are issued for their arrest.

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

Yes, it is essential to have the assistance of a criminal defense attorney for any issues, questions, or concerns you may have related to an arrest warrant or a John Doe warrant. If you have been arrested based on a warrant that does not actually name you, you may be able to contest the arrest.

It is important to contact your attorney as soon as possible following your arrest or determination that there is a warrant issued for your arrest. If you are unsure about your warrant status, your attorney can determine if there are any actual warrants out for your arrest and help you determine your best legal options.

In addition, your attorney will advise you if there are any defenses available in your case and represent you in court, if necessary.


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