All over the United States, people do warrant searches on nearly a daily basis. One thing that a lot of these people might not consider is the legality of such an action. Is it actually legal to search for warrant information, or are all of those people accidentally criminals?
This information is incredibly important because according to the law, “ignorance of the law does not exempt you from the law.” That essentially means that you can’t go stand in front of a judge and say “oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize that was illegal.” and expect to walk out of the courtroom because of that.
The law in the United States is pretty complicated. To the point that people can spend their lives studying it and still not understand everything about it. In fact, most lawyers know a lot about their specialized field and not so much about the rest of the law.
Go ahead, ask a criminal lawyer about maritime law. Or ask a disability lawyer about corporate law. They will, of course, be able to give you some generalized answers but they will be far from experts on those subjects because of how vast the legal system is here.
That is actually precisely why we decided to write this article today. If you’re curious about doing any kind of a warrant search and you’re worried that it might result in the feds showing up at your doorstep to take you to jail, this article is for you.
We’re going to cover what exactly warrants are, the legality of finding them, and how to find them. This way you can feel more confident about doing warrant searches, or potentially a lot less confident about it, depending on what we discover together throughout this article today.
What is a Warrant?
There are some parts of our criminal justice system that are more complicated than others. Warrants can be one of those things, but they can be explained in relatively simple terms that most people would be able to understand pretty easily no matter how much or little they know about the criminal justice system.
You see, the 4th amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. This is in place to make sure that innocent people aren’t being targeted by the police for no reason, and there are some historic reasons involved in this too.
As you’re probably aware, not everyone is innocent. There are definitely some criminals in the world. So, in order to make sure that criminals are still caught while keeping innocent people safe from searches and seizures, warrants are ordered for specific people under specific circumstances.
There are a lot of different types of warrants, but two main ones. The rest of them get a little more complicated, so we’re going to look at those two main ones for the moment:
- Search warrants.
- Search warrants allow law enforcement officers to search someone legally.
- Arrest warrants.
- Arrest warrants allow law enforcement officers to arrest someone legally.
There are some cases where a warrant isn’t needed. That can include things like:
- Consent for a search being given to law enforcement.
- Anything that’s seen in clear view.
- The suspect being caught in the act.
- Reasonable suspicion.
There are other times when warrants aren’t needed, but we’re going to stick with those four for the sake of simplicity. This topic can get very complicated very quickly, so we’re just going to try to skim over the top of everything as we go through it. We just want to make sure that we’re being clear when we say that this is not the full story.
The only people that are able to issue warrants are judges and magistrates. In some cases, mayors and governors can also issue warrants, but for brevity’s sake, we’re not gonna get too deep into that. All warrants must contain certain information:
- The name of the suspect.
- If this isn’t available it can be bypassed.
- A reasonable description of the suspect.
- This is required, especially if the name of the suspect wasn’t available.
- The crimes that were committed.
- The county where said crimes were committed.
- The signature of the judge or magistrate.
- Date the judge or magistrate signed the warrant.
- Counties in which the warrant is executable.
- The name of the office where the authorizing person works.
Some warrants contain more information such as the amount of bail that was set if any was set at all. Different states do things a little differently, but the list that we just went over is typically considered to be the bare minimum of the information that has to appear on a warrant in order for it to be valid. In some states, if the warrant is considered invalid the whole case can be thrown out.
The Legality of Doing a Warrant Search
Now that we all have at least a fundamental grasp on the concept of warrants, let’s start getting into the legality of actually doing these kinds of searches. No one wants to show up in front of a judge and plead their case, especially when they were just trying to get warrant information.
So, the big question here is “is doing a warrant search legal?” If you just want a short answer, the answer is yes. Searching for outstanding warrants is absolutely a legal task and you will not get into any legal trouble just for searching for a warrant. You can potentially get yourself in trouble if you use that information to break the law, but the actual act of doing a warrant search is perfectly legal. That means that you can do this without any worry of legal trouble.
The longer answer is also “yes” but we can include some reasoning as to why it is legal. In the United States, we have something that we refer to as “public records” and these records are accessible to anyone. This can include things like:
- Property records.
- Marriage licenses.
- Meeting minutes.
- Birth records.
- Death records.
- Statistical data.
- Warrant information.
There are a lot of different laws on the books that make finding this kind of information perfectly legal. This has been something that’s been building up since the 1960s, and at this point, every state has its own government transparency laws in its books.
People all over the country have decided that it’s important that people have some idea of what their government is doing, and that’s why it’s perfectly legal to access warrant information no matter what your reasoning might just so happen to be.
Finding Warrant Information.
It can be rather difficult to be sure that you’re using the right method to find warrant information, even if this is something that you do regularly. So, what are the best ways to go about finding out if someone has an outstanding warrant for their arrest?
The first place that most people try is their local sheriff’s department. You can try online or give them a call. If you try online, you’ll just have to hope that they have a database available so you can search for the person in question by first name and last name.
If you decide to call, be prepared to answer a few questions. It’s not uncommon for law enforcement to try and figure out why you’re trying to find this information in the first place, but if they can share this information they’ll usually be happy to after you answer their questions.
This can be pretty hit or miss, depending on what county you live in. Some counties are exceedingly good about making this information available, while other counties aren’t for one reason or another. If you encounter a county that’s the latter, you’ll need a different method.
So, all you need to do is find a good warrant search service. These services are specialized and can scan thousands upon thousands of public records databases to get this information for you very quickly. In fact, most of the time they can provide you with your search results instantly.
All you need is the first and last name of the person in question and the state they currently live in. Once you enter that, just hit the search button and their system will do the rest for you. It’s that easy, and you can get the information in less time than it takes to brew a pot of coffee.
Knowing the Law
There are a lot of laws to know if you live in the United States. Things are legal that you would think would be illegal, things are illegal that you would think are legal. It can get pretty confusing pretty quickly.
Knowing for sure that what you’re doing is legal can make your life a lot easier and a lot less stressful. Fortunately, for all of those junior sleuths out there, you can easily and quickly do warrants searches with just a little bit of time and information.