A Guide to Arrest & Search Warrants in California Law

  • Post last modified:November 25, 2023

Different Types of Warrants and Their Impact on Arrests

Anyone who has ever watched a legal drama on television knows that warrants are as much a part of the criminal justice process as bail or plea agreements are. However, there are many types of warrants. Understanding what each type of warrant is for, when it’s required, and how it is issued can be important in building a defense against criminal charges.

Understanding Search Warrants

A search warrant is a type of court order. It grants law enforcement officers the ability to conduct a specific search, often of a premises, electronic device, or person. A warrant is only valid if it is specific as to the location, item, or person to be searched and what is to be seized.

How Are Search Warrants Obtained?

Search warrants aren’t granted without specific steps and information. Law enforcement has to request that a judge order the search, and judges won’t order searches without probable cause and certain documentation.

First, law enforcement officers must have a reasonable belief, based on investigative work, that a crime did occur and that evidence related to the crime is likely to be located at the premises or on the item (such as a computer or smartphone) to be searched. The law enforcement officer requesting the warrant must complete a signed affidavit swearing to the truth of his or her belief and including the information that supports it.

Police officers can’t simply ask for warrants randomly or in the unfounded hope that evidence might turn up somewhere they search. Judges will not typically issue warrants based on these requests.
If a judge decides that evidence supports the search warrant, it is issued and law enforcement must act on it within a set period of time.

Do Police Always Need a Search Warrant?

No, there are a number of exceptions that allow police to conduct a search without a warrant. In many cases, police can search a vehicle without a warrant if they have probable cause. If something is in plain view—the officer can see it without any search required—it can be seized without a warrant. Law enforcement officials can also search a residence, person, or electronic device with the consent of the person or owner without a warrant. These are only a few of the exceptions.

Understanding Arrest Warrants

Arrest warrants are also court orders, but instead of authorizing a search, they authorize an arrest. However, law enforcement officers don’t always need a warrant to make an arrest. If an officer is present at the scene of a crime and has probable cause to support an arrest, they can make it.

Arrests made based on the investigative work on a case, though, typically require an arrest warrant. Usually, law enforcement goes through the District Attorney’s office, and the DA and law enforcement together request a judge to issue a warrant. As with a search warrant, law enforcement must make a case for probable cause, and the judge decides whether there is enough evidence to support the arrest warrant order.

What Happens After an Arrest Warrant Is Issued?

Police officers typically make attempts to arrest individuals on warrants in locations they know the person will be. That includes a person’s home or work. If law enforcement wants to search any other premises for an individual they have an arrest warrant for, they may need a search warrant to do so.

In some cases, you may be served with a summons instead. This summons lets you know that you need to show up in court on a certain date. It is a way for someone to be notified of the charges against them and asked to appear in court without being arrested. A decision is made by the prosecutor whether to ask for a summons in lieu of a warrant.

Understanding Bench Warrants

A bench warrant may be issued by a judge when someone doesn’t follow through with a court order. That can include not showing up for court as summoned or failing to pay a court-ordered fine.
Bench warrants don’t require any sort of investigation or evidentiary process. Judges can issue them at their discretion—though the judge must have good reason to believe that the person in question has failed to comply with a court order.

Law enforcement officers execute a bench warrant by arresting the person in question and bringing them before the court. The judge then decides what action to take—which can range from giving the person a warning to calling for the person to be held in custody.

Consult a Criminal Defense Attorney About Warrants or Charges

You can often find out if an arrest or bench warrant has been issued for you by checking county sheriff or local police department websites for warrant listings. If you do believe there is a warrant for your arrest, you may want to get ahead of the issue by reaching out to a criminal defense attorney.

Your attorney can help you understand your options, including how to surrender yourself to avoid a public arrest. They can also begin working on your criminal defense immediately to support a better potential outcome for your case. Don’t face criminal charges on your own. No matter where you are in the criminal defense process, consider working with an experienced attorney. Call the Law Offices of Jerry Nicholson at 562-205-8499.