If someone is suspected of committing a crime, the police in California do not need a warrant to make an arrest. If someone commits a crime that is witnessed by a police officer – driving under the influence, for example – that person can be arrested on the spot. But in other cases, when police officers believe that someone has committed a crime, they may go to a judge and ask the judge to issue a warrant for that person’s arrest.

If a warrant has been issued for your arrest in Southern California – or if you believe there may be a warrant for your arrest – the smartest thing you can do is to contact an experienced Orange County criminal defense lawyer immediately. In most cases, there is no reason to believe that an arrest warrant means you will go to jail, provided that you do the right thing right away with a defense attorney’s help.

Contact a criminal defense attorney right away if you learn that you are the target of an arrest warrant or a criminal investigation. Your lawyer can notify the police and prosecutor that you are represented by counsel. If you are under investigation by the police and you are suspected of committing a felony, a defense attorney may be able, in some cases, to intercede and prove your innocence or show that you are being falsely accused. If this happens, you will not be arrested, and you’ll save yourself from the cost and inconvenience of an arrest and time lost in court.

Your lawyer will be able to learn if there is or is not a warrant for your arrest, what the charge is, and what the bail amount will be. In some cases, it’s possible that your attorney can have the warrant entirely dismissed or at least have you released on your own recognizance. In any case, it is imperative for you to deal with the arrest warrant immediately and to work with an attorney who can bring the matter to its best possible conclusion.

PRECISELY WHAT IS AN ARREST WARRANT? WHAT DOES IT DO?

A warrant for someone’s arrest may be issued by a California judge on the basis of evidence offered to the judge by police officers and/or prosecutors or after the person named in the warrant has been indicted by a California grand jury. Every California arrest warrant must include the name of the person being charged, the charge, the time and date the warrant was issued, the city or county where the warrant was issued, the signature of the judge, his or her title, and the name of the judge’s court. An arrest warrant gives police officers the authority to arrest, book, and hold the person named in the warrant.

When arrest warrants are executed by the police, arrests are usually made at the suspect’s residence or workplace. If the crime someone is charged with is a bailable offense, an arrest warrant will specify the bail amount. Offenses that are not bailable include capital (death penalty) offenses and felonies involving violence, sexual assault, or the threat of great bodily harm.

However, the police are not required to have an actual hard copy of an arrest warrant in order to take a suspect into custody. If someone with an outstanding arrest warrant is stopped by a police officer in traffic, for example, simply learning that an arrest warrant has been issued gives the law enforcement officer who made the traffic stop the authority to also take the suspect into custody.

Throughout the state of California, most of the suspects named in arrest warrants are handcuffed and taken immediately into custody – but there are exceptions. Prosecutors sometimes prefer to issue a “summons” in lieu of an arrest warrant. The summons is a document – either mailed or served by a process server – which orders the suspect to appear in court. This gives a suspect the chance to present a defense to a judge without having to undergo the arrest process. Prosecutors sometimes prefer to use a summons for first-time offenders charged with nonviolent felonies.

ARE ARREST WARRANTS ISSUED FOR MISDEMEANOR SUSPECTS?

Arrest warrants are rarely issued for those suspected of committing misdemeanors. In California, most misdemeanor charges are handled as “cite and release” charges. There is no arrest, fingerprinting, or booking. Most misdemeanor suspects can be released simply by promising to be in court for a specific court date. However, if a misdemeanor charge involves domestic violence or driving under the influence, if there is another warrant for the suspect, or if a suspect cannot provide reliable proof of his or her identity, the suspect may no longer qualify for cite and release and may be placed under arrest.

“The Fugitive” was an exciting movie and TV series, but becoming a fugitive is not something that you want to try in real life. If a warrant has been issued for your arrest, and you know it and flee, you become a fugitive from justice, and if you are arrested in another state or nation, you will probably be extradited back to California, although you will have the opportunity to challenge any extradition procedure.

WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF AN ARREST WARRANT IS ISSUED FOR YOU?

If you are already named as a suspect in an arrest warrant, and if you go by yourself to turn yourself in, you will be immediately arrested and booked. However, if you are accompanied by an experienced Orange County criminal defense lawyer, in some cases it may be possible for your attorney to have the arrest warrant cleared or “recalled and quashed.” If you are arrested and charged with a bailable offense and you post bail, you will be released. In some cases, your defense lawyer may be able to persuade a judge to lower your bail or to release you on your own recognizance.

If you are placed under arrest, do not talk to the police. It’s your right, and it’s the one rule that you must remember and heed if you’re arrested while driving or if the police arrive at your home or workplace with an arrest warrant. While our rights to remain silent and to have an attorney present during questioning are basic constitutional rights, in practice, exercising those rights can be difficult. That’s one more reason why you need an attorney’s advice from the moment you learn that you are being investigated or that a warrant has been issued for your arrest.