Are Warrants Public Records in the District of Columbia?
Yes. In many instances, DC warrants can become part of the public record once they have been executed and the corresponding criminal case has reached a particular stage. However, as applicable to the disclosure of DC criminal records, there may be exceptions for ongoing investigations and instances involving minors. The provisions for the dissemination of public records in DC are specified in the state’s Freedom of Information Act. Exemptions for the disclosure of these records are as outlined in DC Code § 2-534.
What is Considered a Warrant in the District of Columbia?
A warrant in the District of Columbia is a document that comes from a judge and allows law enforcement officers to take certain actions. These actions may limit the rights and freedom of persons, and the warrant acts as a form of protection for the officer carrying it out. Judicial officers in the District of Columbia Courts may issue warrants where there is probable cause to do so. The term ‘Judicial Officer’ refers to judges of the Superior Court, District Court, or a United States commissioner or magistrate for the District of Columbia.
A person may be issued against a person for many reasons, and the common types of warrants in the District of Columbia are arrest warrants, bench warrants, and search warrants. Many individuals with active warrants may get arrested and taken into custody on unrelated incidents like traffic stops. When a law enforcement officer pulls a person over, the officer may run a quick search. If it comes up positive, the officer may arrest the individual on the spot.
Warrants issued include the full name of the wanted person and identifying information like their eye color, approximate weight, and the county or city where their offense occurred or where they were last seen.
How to Find Out if You Have a Warrant in the District of Columbia?
A person may find out information on active warrants by carrying out a District of Columbia warrant search. The search provides detailed information about prior and active warrants on a person. Interested persons may carry out a warrant search through any of the following media:
- District of Columbia Courts
- Department of Corrections
- Third-party searches
District of Columbia Courts provides the public access to warrant information through the active warrant list. To find information using the active warrant list, provide a last name, first name, middle name, case number, and year. Another way to carry out a District of Columbia warrant search is through the Department of Corrections, which provides a Most Wanted List. The list contains pictures and physical descriptions of some of the most wanted fugitives in the District of Columbia.
Third-party websites also maintain records of warrants issued or executed in various jurisdictions. While third-party sites make accessing these records substantially easier, the information available on the sites may vary since they are not government-run sources. To obtain warrant records from a third-party site, the requesting party may be required to provide:
- The personal information of the alleged suspect
- Information regarding the issuing officer
- The location where the warrant was issued.
How Long Does a Warrant Stay Active in the District of Columbia?
In the District of Columbia, active warrants remain active forever. There is no statute of limitation for arrest warrants and bench warrants in the district. They remain outstanding until executed or quashed, following the order of a judge. The only way a person can get rid of a warrant in the District of Columbia is by making an appearance before the court that issued the warrant. Also, the death of a defendant may render a warrant ineffective. Anyone with an outstanding warrant is advised to contact an attorney and make an appearance before a judge. An experienced attorney may make a reasonable case before a judge, who may then quash the warrant. It is also important for individuals to carry out routine background checks or search records at local law enforcement agencies to stay informed on legal challenges like an active warrant.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Warrant in the District of Columbia?
The precise timing for getting a warrant can depend on several factors, such as the time it takes for law enforcement officers to gather the necessary evidence, the time it takes to prepare the affidavit and present it to a judge, the judge's availability to review the affidavit and issue the warrant, and the complexity of the case. It is worth noting that the District of Columbia allows for issuing warrants outside of regular court hours in urgent circumstances. The procedural rules that guide the issuance of arrest warrants can be found in Title 23 of the District of Columbia Official Code.
How Do Search Warrants Work in DC?
A search warrant is an order issued by a judge to law enforcement officers, which allows the officers to enter a building and search a person or property for evidence of a crime. Under § 23–521 of the Code of the District of Columbia, judicial officers have the authority to issue search warrants upon the application of a prosecutor or a law enforcement officer. A search warrant may authorize law enforcement officers from the Metropolitan Police Department or other agencies authorized to execute the process to search anywhere in the District of Columbia, including the following:
- A designated or described place or premises
- A described vehicle
- Physical objects
- A designated person
Such a warrant may also order the seizure of items or property following the search. The seizure may occur in circumstances where the property is:
- Stolen or embezzled
- Contraband or gotten through illegal means
- Used or intended for the commission of a crime to conceal an already committed criminal offense
- Evidence of or showing how the suspect committed a crime, including the identity of participants or the victim(s)
A valid search warrant must contain the following details:
- The name of the court that issued the warrant
- The date of issuance and signature of the issuing judicial officer
- The name of the officer or classification of officers who may carry out the warrant
- A description of the premises, objects, vehicles, or persons named in the warrant
- A description of the property which the warrant orders law enforcement officers to seize
Once issued, law enforcement officers may execute a search warrant during daylight hours, being the hours of 6:00 am and 9:00 pm. However, the officers may execute a warrant at night only where there is proper authorization. Officers named in the warrant must also make an inventory of any items seized and return such items to the court after executing the warrant.
How Does a District of Columbia Search Warrant Become Invalid?
The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution makes it a condition precedent that before a judge issues a search warrant, there must be probable cause. Where probable cause is not shown, a search warrant becomes invalid because of the absence of any specific evidence that connects the subject of the search warrant to any illegal activity. The purpose of this law is to protect citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. § 23–523 of the Code of the District of Columbia also provides for the time of execution of search warrants.
Under this section, law enforcement officers may only execute a search warrant within ten days of its issue and must return the warrant to the court when executed or expired. A warrant executed outside of the provided time frame is invalid. The absence of relevant data may also render a search warrant invalid. Such relevant data includes the name and description of the person or property that is the subject of the search warrant.
DC Arrest Warrants: Rules of Procedure
An arrest warrant in the District of Columbia is an order that commands law enforcement officers to arrest a person suspected of committing a crime. Under § 23–561 of the Code of the District of Columbia, a judicial officer may issue an arrest warrant upon presentation of a sworn complaint that states the offense and the probable cause for issuing the warrant. In the District of Columbia, judicial officers may issue more than one warrant over one complaint. The issuing judicial officer must sign the warrant and must state the following information on the warrant:
- The name of the issuing court
- The date of issuance of the warrant
- A description of the offense charged
- The name of the person the warrant was issued against.
- A description of the person, where a name is not available
An arrest warrant is said to be executed when law enforcement arrests the person named in the warrant. However, the arresting officer need not be with the warrant at the time of the arrest.
Child Support Arrest Warrants in DC: What You Need to Know
Under § 16–916.01 of the Code of District of Columbia, the law expects the parent who has the legal duty to pay child support to do so. Where such a parent fails to pay child support and ignores a court hearing on the matter, the judge may issue a Child Support Arrest Warrant to bring the parent to court. The Parentage and Child Support Branch of the District of Columbia Courts helps to process all bench warrant (arrest) orders relating to child support enforcement. It works in collaboration with the Child Support Services Division (CSSD) of the Attorney General’s Office to carry out these legal functions.
A custodial parent seeking to enforce a child support order may file a motion for contempt against the parent refusing to be. Contempt is of two kinds: civil and criminal. If a judge finds a parent in civil contempt of a child support order, the judge may issue an order to keep the parent in jail till payments are complete or detail a payment plan to catch up with overdue payments. Criminal contempt is a more serious violation, and it may attract jail time, monetary fines, or probation, among other punishments.
District of Columbia Bench Warrants: Issuing and Arrests
A bench warrant in the District of Columbia is a document from a judge on the bench ordering law enforcement officers to bring a person before the court. Common reasons a judge may issue a bench warrant are:
- Failure to pay a fine
- Failure to show up for a court hearing
- Failing to pay child support after a hearing
- Failure to obey a court order
- Failing to appear for a citation
Individuals who have missed court scheduled dates may carry out a warrant search to find out if the court issued a bench warrant. Courts like the DC Superior Court posts all active warrants online. Interested individuals may search the list and contact an attorney who may file a written motion asking the court to recall or quash the warrant.
Failure to Appear in DC: Rules and Consequences
Failure to appear occurs when a person has a court-scheduled appointment and fails to show up. It is a serious criminal offense in the District of Columbia, and the court may issue a bench warrant to that effect. Failure to Appear may also attract an additional criminal charge called a Bail Reform Act Violation. Some situations that may attract a Failure to Appear charge are:
- Failure to pay traffic fines
- Failure to appear for a traffic violation
- Missing a court date after posting bond
Law enforcement officers may arrest a person with an outstanding warrant for Failure to Appear at a traffic stop. Individuals are advised to honor court dates or hire a Failure-to-Appear attorney to deal with the situation.
How Long Do You Have to Stay in Jail for a Warrant for Missing Court in the District of Columbia?
Failure to appear after a notice of the appearance date is regarded as a willful Failure to Appear in the District of Columbia. Under § 23–1327 of the Code of the District of Columbia, a person who willfully fails to appear after posting bail will forfeit the security given for the person’s release. If the initial charge is a felony, the person will face a possible conviction of not less than a year and not more than five years and/or a fine not exceeding $5000. If the initial charge is a misdemeanor, the person may face a conviction of not less than 90 days and not more than 180 days and/or a fine of $1000. For a material witness that fails to appear, the person may face a term of imprisonment of not more than 180 days and/or a fine stated in § 22–3571.01.
Suppose an individual fails to appear for a misdemeanor in the District of Columbia. In that case, the person may get charged with a Bail Reform Act Violation(misdemeanor), which carries a maximum punishment of not less than 90 days and not more than 180 days in prison and/or a one thousand dollar fine. Also, where an individual fails to appear for a Felony in the District of Columbia, such an individual may get a maximum term of not less than one year and not more than five years in prison and/or a $25,000 fine.
In the District of Columbia, What is Failure to Pay?
Failure to Pay refers to a person’s inability to pay a court-appointed fine or penalty. Where a defendant can afford to but refuses to pay, the defendant may face jail time for violating a court order to pay a fine. The court may also impose the following punishments on the defendant:
- Refer the debt to a collection program, which may add more fees to the debt
- Freeze the defendant’s bank accounts
- Seize the defendant’s property, tax returns, and wages
- Place a lien on the defendant’s property, forcing the defendant to sell such property to pay the debt
What is a No-Knock Warrant in the District of Columbia?
A No-Knock Warrant is an order given by a judicial officer authorizing law enforcement officers to enter and search a property without prior notice. The reasons for issuing no-knock warrants are:
- Reasonable suspicion that announcing will pose a danger to law enforcement officers
- Where the suspect may pick up arms
- Where announcing entry may cause the suspect to dispose of incriminating materials.
However, the Fourth Amendment made it compulsory for law enforcement officers to knock and announce before entry. Also, no law in the District of Columbia provides for no-knock warrants. Under § 23–524 of the Code of the District of Columbia, any officer executing a search warrant must make known to the named person the identity of the officer and the purpose of the search.
How to Perform a Federal Warrant Search
Searching for a federal warrant is not as straightforward as searching for a local arrest warrant, predominantly due to the nature of federal investigations, which often involve more sensitive or complex issues. Nevertheless, there are several methods to ascertain if there exists a federal warrant against an individual:
- Public Records Requests: One may file a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to the appropriate federal agency. However, it should be noted that certain pieces of information might be exempted from release if they are part of an ongoing investigation or if they infringe on an individual's privacy rights.
- PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records): PACER represents an electronic public access service that enables users to procure case and docket information from federal appellate, district, and bankruptcy courts. It should be noted that PACER is a paid service; thus, there are charges associated with accessing documents.
- Federal Bureau of Prisons: To ascertain if an individual has been convicted of a federal crime and is currently serving a sentence, one might utilize the inmate locator available on the Federal Bureau of Prisons website.
Does the DC DMV Check for Warrants?
The Department of Motor Vehicles in Washington, D.C., does not perform warrant searches as part of their routine process. However, the DMV may have access to the NCIC database, which contains information about outstanding warrants. If a person has an outstanding warrant, it may be discovered during a check for driving-related infractions. Additionally, the DMV regularly shares data with law enforcement agencies. Consequently, if law enforcement is searching for a person with an outstanding warrant, they may be notified if that person has recently engaged in any DMV-related activities.