Out-of-state criminal charges can be very complicated and confounding. Though leaving a state with a pending warrant is possible, a criminal record follows you everywhere you go within the United States.
But to understand the dynamics of interstate warrants, let’s take a step back.
It’s 1881, and Doc Holliday is involved in the infamous shootout at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona, resulting in the death of two people.
A few months after the incident, while Holiday was living in Colorado, the governor received an extradition request and a warrant for his arrest due to his alleged criminal activities in Arizona. At the time, the U.S. Constitution, specifically Article IV, Section 2, Clause 2, known as the Extradition Clause, governed interstate extradition. According to the Clause, if an individual commits a crime in one state and moves to another, the governor of the state where a crime occurred can demand the person charged with a crime return. Upon the demand, the governor of the state where the officials find the person must comply.
However, even with the Clause, the extradition process was not as clear-cut or automatic as it is today. Governors at the time had more discretion in deciding whether to comply with extradition requests, and various factors could influence this discretion.
In the case of Doc Holliday, the Colorado governor, upon receiving the extradition request, chose to press charges against Holliday for a minor offense in his state. By doing so, he claimed jurisdiction over Holliday, preventing his extradition and facing the more severe charges in Arizona.
But more of this later. Remember this real-life illustration, as we will return to it while explaining how the process works today.
A bench warrant is issued when a person does not attend court. It is a legal document or summons which says an individual must appear in court. The warrant can also give law enforcement permission to take actions laid out in it.
Typically, a bench warrant is issued when
An individual is required to show up for court due to their arrest but does not; or
A witness who is required to go to court does not appear. In this case, the criminal defense lawyers or judge will send a bench warrant requiring their appearance.
An arrest warrant is a legal document issued by a judge or a magistrate which authorizes law enforcement to arrest a person suspected of committing a crime. Unlike a bench warrant, an arrest warrant is specifically for arresting an individual due to alleged criminal activity rather than non-compliance with a court order. The arrest warrant is added to the FBI’s searchable database, accessible by all police in the United States.
The main difference between the two are:
Suppose the police pull you over in California, and you have an arrest warrant issued in Indiana for assault. The police officers running your license for a common traffic infraction can see the open arrest warrant across state lines and arrest you.
Even if you are not pulled over by an officer or arrested for a different infraction, many organizations, such as the DMV, and potential employers can access an arrest warrant issued in another state.
A bench warrant is a court order issued by a judge authorizing law enforcement officers to arrest an individual for failing to honor court orders. When issued by a judge in another state, enforcement depends on the nature of the crime and local state law.
When an interstate bench warrant is issued, the consequences vary depending on the severity of the crime, the circumstances surrounding the warrant, and the extradition policies of both states.
Consider the following illustration:
Tom lives in Maine and is on a business trip to Virginia. While there, the police pull Tom over for reckless driving by speed, and the police give him a citation. He gets scheduled to appear in a Virginia court to address the charge but decides not to attend because he believes the incident was trivial and decides to leave the state without resolving it.
According to the principles of the justice system, in Virginia, a judge issues a bench warrant for his arrest.
While in Maine, his home state, Tom gets into a verbal dispute with a neighbor over a parking spot, leading to a disturbing peace charge. The law enforcement officer runs a routine background check and discovers Tom’s criminal history with an outstanding bench warrant for a crime in Virginia. Depending on the severity of Tom’s Virginia criminal charges and the policies of both states, the law enforcement officer may arrest Tom and hold him in custody until Iowa authorities initiate an extradition process.
Alternatively, the officer may voluntarily allow Tom to resolve the issue in Virginia but still give a citation for disturbing the peace. However, for this illustration, let’s say the offense in Virginia was significant, perhaps death caused by drunk driving. Moving to another state with a felony is impossible. The Maine authorities will hold Tom in custody as the Virginia governor prepares an extradition request. If the request is upheld, Tom will be extradited to appear in person for criminal charges in Virginia.
An arrest based on a warrant from another state typically occurs if the crime associated with the warrant is a felony. In such instances, the state must obtain an extradition request from the jurisdiction that issued the warrant before the individual can be taken back for trial.
Individuals have the right to contest extradition by presenting their reasons for refusal to a judge, who will determine if the request should be granted.
If you are arrested in another state for any reason, the police will likely see the interstate warrant on national and regional databases, such as the National Crime Information Center (NCIC).
Remember the Doc Holiday incident?
The NCIC database would record the arrest warrant if the incident happened today. Further, under the Uniform Criminal Extradition Act (UCEA), now adopted by 48 states, the Colorado governor’s actions would be more limited and governed by the standardized procedures outlined in the act.
Under the UCEA, when a governor receives an adequately executed extradition request, they are generally obligated to comply. The process typically involves the following steps:
Receipt of the request — The Arizona state’s governor (the demanding state) submits a formal written request, accompanied by a copy of the charging document, such as an indictment or information, and an affidavit, warrant, or judgment of conviction.
Review of the request — The Colorado governor reviews the documentation to ensure it is in proper order and meets the requirements of the UCEA.
An arrest warrant is issued — If the extradition request is in order and meets the requirements of the UCEA, the Colorado state’s governor issues a governor’s warrant for the arrest and extradition of Doc Holiday.
Arrest and detention — Doc Holiday would be arrested and charged based on the Colorado Governor’s warrant and detained in Colorado pending a hearing or other legal proceedings.
Identity, probable cause, or extradition hearing — Doc Holiday has the right to challenge the legality of the extradition process in a Colorado court. The court’s review is usually limited to verifying identity, ensuring that the extradition documents are in order, and establishing that there is probable cause that the defendant committed the crime.
If the Colorado court fulfills the mandate and upholds the extradition request, they would have transferred Doc Holiday’s custody to Arizona authorities so that he can face the charges against him.
If you have received an interstate arrest warrant or have been arrested for one, consider speaking with a qualified criminal defense attorney to protect your rights.
Your attorney can help you understand your case, determine if you should waive the extradition process, and recommend the following steps. No matter how trivial you think, the issues are, you cannot simply ignore a bench warrant and never think of moving to another state with a felony charge on your record. Therefore, only return to your home state after resolving the matter.
An out-of-state failure to appear warrant is equivalent to a bench warrant, which signifies that you did not show up in court but are required to do so. It differs slightly from an arrest warrant; its severity depends on the state that issued it.
Sometimes, a judge can issue a bench warrant that only requires your court appearances for a specific matter, such as “you need to appear in court X for Y.”Always work with an experienced criminal defense attorney to address a failure to appear and avoid prosecution. Your attorney may contact the court, give legitimate reasons for your failure, and secure a new court date when you can appear.
A judge or magistrate may issue a misdemeanor bench warrant for minor offenses, such as missing a court hearing for out-of-state drivers with a traffic violation or other misdemeanor charges. However, in some states, a misdemeanor bench warrant may be substituted with an arrest warrant if the accused fails to appear before a judge and is deemed a flight risk or a danger to the community. Unlike a bench warrant, an arrest warrant directs law enforcement to apprehend an individual rather than just requiring them to appear in court. Courts reserve this type of warrant for more severe offenses, such as felonies.
An arrest warrant issued in one state can be visible and enforced in other states at a federal level, especially for felony charges.
On the other hand, out-of-state warrants for less severe matters, such as bench warrants for misdemeanors or minor infractions, may not appear in a national database. If you are arrested due to out-of-state criminal charges, seeking legal counsel promptly to secure proper representation and advice is crucial.
Yevheniia Savchenko is a Product Content Manager at Lawrina. Yevheniia creates user interface copies for Lawrina products, writes release notes, and helps customers get the best user experience from all Lawrina products. Also, Yevheniia is in charge of creating helpful content on legal template pages (Lawrina Templates) and up-to-date information on US law (Lawrina Guides). In her spare time, Yevheniia takes up swimming, travels, and goes for a walk in her home city.
States impose a 30 to 90-day time limit from the arrest date to the conclusion of the extradition hearing.
Delays in the extradition process can occur due to circumstances such as the demanding state’s failure to provide the necessary paperwork. However, a criminal defense attorney can help expedite your process. The Uniform Criminal Extradition Act (UCEA), which several states have adopted, mandates that the demanding state must transport the defendant within a reasonable period once the extradition is upheld. However, this obligation has no defined timeframe and could vary depending on the case’s particulars.
Extraditable offenses depend on jurisdictional laws and regulations and the crime’s nature and severity. They include:
Where the alleged crime occurred is the state that will make an extradition request for you to face local criminal charges. As an out-of-state defendant, finding a local attorney licensed to practice law guarantees that the individual knows the local law and can conduct a robust defense.
Extradition between states in the United States occurs when a person accused or convicted of a crime in one state (the demanding state) moves and is found in another (the asylum state). The person will be transported (extradited) to the state demanding states for criminal proceedings according to the local criminal laws. The Uniform Criminal Extradition Act (UCEA) and applicable case and state laws govern extradition. The demanding state initiates the process by submitting a formal request for extradition to the executive authority of the asylum state. If the request is deemed valid, the fugitive is transferred to the demanding state to face charges. The accused is entitled to challenge the extradition request through legal proceedings.