The following is a scenario that could very well happen to the average law-abiding, but somewhat forgetful, citizen:
You’re having a stellar day: the weather is gorgeous; you just closed a deal at the office that means a big bonus for you; and a beautiful woman (or cute guy) just gave you nice, saucy smile. You’re feeling healthy, wealthy and wise. But then, as you saunter up to your car, you see something that puts a damper on our whole day: a parking ticket tucked under your wiper blade. You pull it out, with annoyance, and once you’re in the car, throw into the glove box and return to your earlier, pleasanter thoughts.
A couple of months later–having completely forgotten about the parking ticket–you are pulled over for a minor traffic violation. The police officer does a routine check on his onboard computer and, upon finding an outstanding warrant for your arrest, arrests you.
If you have any reason to suspect that you do have an outstanding warrant, you can verify your status by inquiring with the proper authorities. However, different cities and counties have varying policies and systems in place regarding how information on outstanding warrants can be accessed.
In the case of New York City, the frequently asked questions page of the NYPD website has the pertinent details about who to contact. Under the question,”I think I have a warrant for my arrest. How do I find out?” they inform us that, “You may contact the Warrant Section’s Telephone Inquiry Unit at (718) 217-8484. You will be asked a series of questions and an investigator will search the records for you.”
On the other hand, The Los Angeles Police Department website’s FAQ page relates this sobering news under the heading “Wants or Warrants”: “If you want to know whether an outstanding want or warrant exists for you, you must appear in person at an LAPD Community Police Station. No specific want or warrant information is provided telephonically.”
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department has an online warrant query system, the database of which is updated every 24 hours. You simply enter a name and birthdate into the proper fields to find out whether or not there is an outstanding warrant on that person. If there is, the system provides detailed information about it, including the warrant type, number, date of issue, court of issue, primary charge, degree of crime (misdemeanor or felony), bail amount, and whether or not a court appearance is mandatory.
Many cities, like Austin Texas for example, give you the option of either calling or searching for warrant details online. The Austin Municipal Court’s web page relates that, “You may call our Interactive Voice Response system at 512-974-4800. Choose the Warrants option from the voice menu. You can also search for your warrant online…” If you happen to live in San Francisco County, you can contact the Central Warrants Bureau by telephone, at (415) 553-1871. The city of Santa Maria California website’s FAQ page advises that, “To find out if you have a warrant for your arrest you need to contact the Superior Court at (805) 614-6590.”
So when it comes to inquiring about outstanding warrants, who you ask and how you can get in contact with them varies from place to place. In many cases, you can get information about warrants online. For example, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has a Wanted Persons page on their Public Access System website that provides statewide information on warrants. But they do include this disclaimer:
“FDLE cannot represent that this information is current, active, or complete. You should verify that a warrant is active with your local law enforcement agency or with the reporting agency.”
Of course if you do find that there is an active warrant for your arrest, you’ll have to contact either the local law enforcement agency or the court that issued the warrant to find out what steps you’ll need to take to resolve the issue.
One thing that I don’t recommend is using one of the many websites that charge a fee for finding information on outstanding warrants. I recommend against this for two reasons:This is information that you can find on your own for free.There is no reason to believe that these for-profit websites have access to or provide accurate information.