When Do Warrants Expire? Never On Their Own

I often get questions from people who have outstanding warrants asking when the warrant will expire.  Every time I get one of these questions, I have to roll my eyes a bit – because when a person asks that questions, it indicates they do not understand what is going on when a warrant is issued.

In California, (and the rest of the US as far as I know) nearly all warrants are court orders instructing a law enforcement agency (usually the County Sheriff for a state warrant) to take a person into custody.  Most warrants are issued because of a problem in a pending case, such as a missed court date.  Because it is a court order, a warrant can only be recalled by the court that issued it.


Regardless of whether the warrant comes from the Los Angeles Criminal Court, traffic court, or federal court, there are pretty much only 3 ways to get a warrant recalled:

1) law enforcement takes person into custody;

2) person goes to court and cures the problem that led to the warrant issuance; or

3) person posts bail with the court and schedules court date to deal with the warrant.

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Some warrants are easier to take care of than others.  For example a warrant with a $500 bail may be resolved without jail time if taken care of correctly, but a warrant with a $1,000,000 bail means the person is going to jail for sure.

But there is no expiration period for a warrant.  They cannot, and should not be ignored for even a day.  Even a 10 year old warrant can result in arrest on the road, at the airport, or even at your place of work.

Instant Complete Warrant Search

Instant Complete Warrant Search


Courts that issue warrants do not just give up on their order to take a person into custody after a certain amount of time.  The warrants stay active until the problem is cured.

Many times in my 12 (or is it 13 now?) years of being a trial attorney, I have seen warrants 10 or more years old result in the arrest of a person.

In nearly all warrants, a court appearance is mandatory.  There is almost never a way to take care of a warrant by telephone (unless you use the telephone to hire an attorney and/or post bail)

The “statute of limitations” does not apply in any way to a warrant.  A “Statute of Limitations” is a deadline for a prosecutor to File Charges with the Court.  It is not in any way a deadline to catch a person.

And no, leaving the state or country does not solve a warrant problem.  It only makes it worse.  For example, last year I talked with a potential client that had a 15 year old warrant in Santa Clara County Superior Court.  It was a no bail warrant, and he had left the US to live in a new country, thinking he could out run the warrant. 

Well, in the end, it turned out that the new country denied him residency due to the warrant in the US, and were in the process of booting him. And the real trouble came around when he discovered he probably could not fly back to the US without being arrested on the very old warrant.  I wanted to help him and have him hire me – but in the end I had to just tell him he was screwed. Even though the warrant was years old, he was going to prison for sure.

If you have a warrant pending, I strongly recommend getting one of our FREE ATTORNEY CASE REVIEWS and/or contacting the court to determine what to do.  Do not delay.  Everyday that a warrant remains pending makes it harder to get a good result.

Questions?  Leave a comment or contact cdort@dortlaw.com

About Attorney Christopher Dort

Public Interest Attorney. CA State Bar #196832. Licensed to practice law in California 1998, and then the US Federal District Court in 2000. Civil Litigation Trial Attorney (Insurance Defense Firms) 2000-2003. Private practice 2003 - present. First Solo Criminal Jury Trial 1998 (Santa Cruz County). First Civil Jury Trial 2002 (Orange County). Santa Cruz County Public Defenders Office 1996-1999 (law clerk). BA in Politics from UC Santa Cruz, 1995. JD, University of California, Hastings, 1998.
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7 Responses to When Do Warrants Expire? Never On Their Own

  1. Mary says:

    A friend of mine, that is in jail has found out, he has a 15 year old criminal property damage warrant from IL.. I am trying to figure out how to help him. He can’t appear in court as he is in jail. It is a bench warrant and IL. will not extridite. Can I pay a fine or what would be the starting steps?

  2. Crystal says:

    For a bench warrant from a traffic citation, after you pay the fine (in Pennsylvania) and I assume go to court to resolve the issue, does it remain on your record permanently? I’m not sure how warrants and bench warrants work as far as criminal or traffic records go.

    I thought I had paid my full ticket on time, but didn’t realize there was a second ticket for not wearing my seatbelt. An officer came by my house last night about the warrant, but didn’t arrest me because I told him I thought I had paid it. I intend to go to the magistrate today to pay with a money order, but am concerned about having a record of a warrant (I have no records, no intentions on having one now due to a simple mistake).

    So, long story short, am I going to have a permanent record now?

    • Do Warrants Create a Permanent Record?

      Crystal,

      This is a good question. I am not licensed in PA, but I can tell you that usually there is no record of a
      “warrant” after it is cleared. They are not like criminal CONVICTIONS – which do create a permanent record.

      A warrant is a court order that says “Come to court now”;
      A Conviction is a Court Order that says “This person is a proven criminal.”

      So, no, generally, warrants do not create permanent records once cleared.

      A pending warrant, however, means a person is a fugitive from justice. And that can cause a background check, sudden arrest problem to worry about.

      You can get a conviction after a warrant if you plead guilty or are found guilty of a – for example – failure to appear that caused the warrant to be issued.

    • Former Fugitive says:

      Crystal, check the docket sheets on the Unified Judicial System’s website ….

      Pennsylvania’s Unified Judicial System

      That website, incidentally, is how many potential employers — or anyone else, for that matter — can see if you have a criminal record in Pennsylvania. Even records of minor traffic tickets are on there. Records of old warrants are also on there. I know that for a fact.

      If your name is on there, look into getting your record expunged. In Chester County, an expungement involves filling out a one-page document in the Clerk of the Court’s office and paying a $32.00 filing fee. Unless the DA objects to your expungement, you won’t have to go to court or do anything else. You certainly don’t need a lawyer for an expungement. I imagine the process is similar throughout the Commonwealth.

      Good luck.

  3. Former Fugitive says:

    In the 1990s, a former college housemate of mine told the police that I had damaged some of his property. Based on what he told the cops, I was charged with a misdemeanor (criminal mischief) in a Pennsylvania court. Even though I was charged with this crime, I was never arrested for the crime. (He went to the cops after I graduated and after I had moved to another state.) Unbeknownst to me, the court issued a warrant for my arrest. The case against me became inactive. 10 years later the District Attorney decided to “nolle pross” (spelling?) the case and all the charges against me were dismissed. Suffice it to say, when the charges were dropped, the warrant was rescinded.

    All of this happened without my knowledge. I never knew the charges were filed and I never knew the charges were dismissed. I only found out about it when a friend mentioned that my name appeared on an online database run by the Pennsylvania Judiciary. I am now in the process of having the “arrest” record expunged.

    Moral of the story: Warrants may not “expire,” but as I learned, if the case gets old enough, the DA might just decide to drop the case and rescind the warrant rather than keep the case on the back burner.

    • Former,

      Yeap, that sounds like something that could happen. I always tell people warrants never go away on their own. In your case, it sounds like the charges went away – but the sheriff’s records hung around (or some other records of it).

      Sounds like you will survive.

      This sounds like it was probably a “citizen complaint” of some sort, which is probably a little different than a DUI arrest.

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