The Top 5 Misconceptions on Criminal Warrants
One of the most common phone calls we get in our criminal defense office is from random defendants asking questions about an open warrant for their arrest. Obviously, and understandably, they are scared and want to know all the options. Typically what they think they know and what they learn after talking to us couldn’t be farther apart.
Thus, having received hundreds, if not thousands, of calls from defendants on their outstanding criminal warrants, we’ve come across just about every single misunderstanding about warrants.
As such, we thought it would be a good idea to take the top five (5) misguided misconceptions about warrants and explain why they are just that. Contact our experienced Indianapolis criminal defense lawyers at Banks & Brower.
1) “I’ll just make a run for it.”
Without question, this is one of the most common thoughts that run through a defendant’s mind (no pun intended). It goes back to our natural instinct of fight or flight. When someone commits a crime (or is accused of one they didn’t commit), that person’s immediate reaction is, “how can I distance myself as far away from this problem as possible?” The O.J. Simpson Bronco chase comes to mind.
However, running from the problem is always a terrible idea. As much as you want to run, the problem won’t just disappear with time or distance. A warrant will be issued, an incredibly high bond will be set, and the prosecutor will just put the file in the drawer until you are apprehended. Once you are, any plea deal will be harsher, the penalties will be higher, and you will typically sit in jail until the case is resolved.
Plus, if you’ve ever watched America’s Most Wanted on television, one of the first things a fugitive says after they are arrested is, “Feew, I’m glad this is over, I’m sick of looking over my shoulder every day.” After all, freedom isn’t freedom unless you are actually free to do as you please without fear of the repercussions.
2) “I’m out of state, they can’t get me now. Plus, they have bigger fish to fry.”
As tempting as this sounds, it, too, is a falsity. We aren’t living in the old west where sheriffs won’t cross state lines in fear of stepping on the toes of Wyatt Earp. With the advent of technology, police stations share information back and forth with ease and without delay. Warrants are posted locally, then shared nationally, and all it takes is a traffic stop for you to be caught.
The only hint of truth to this rumor is the issue of extradition. If you are taken into custody on a warrant in a different state from where the warrant originates, there are a couple of issues that come into play: (1) the level of the offense committed, (2) the willingness of the host state/county to pay to have you returned, and (3) extradition laws.
Typically, misdemeanors aren’t treated so seriously. The lower level the crime, sometimes states/counties won’t worry too much about pushing to have you extradited. Moreover, the county in which the warrant was issued has the biggest impact on what will happen. Counties with more money, like Hamilton County, IN, will often pay to have you sent back. Counties with less money or overcrowding of jails may not, like Marion County, etc. However, if you have committed a higher level crime, typically a D-Felony and above, most counties will pay for your return.
Regardless, the general rule of thumb is that you can be held in custody in a visiting state for up to thirty (30) days before you can be released. Each time you are caught, this process can take a month to resolve itself. Ask yourself, is that worth it? Every time you are caught speeding or with a taillight out, do you feel like staying the local jail for thirty (30) days while the authorities sort it out? Of course not.
3) “I don’t need a lawyer; I’ll just explain my situation to the judge.”
Most people think that if they do get caught running and get arrested, they can just explain to the judge why they were gone, that they didn’t know they had a warrant, or you have an excuse as to why you absconded. Nonetheless, judges typically won’t believe you and/or excuse the absence. It’s not that they don’t care (well maybe they don’t); they just hear every excuse in the book like a broken record hundreds of times a week. Can you blame them?
If you hire a lawyer, often times they can file petitions or make arguments on your behalf that the judge and/or prosecutor will believe. Or, at the very least, they can negotiate a lower bond on your behalf before your surrender or after. They can also communicate with family as to how to pay the bond and get you released. Your lawyer can have an action plan with your family or friends in anticipation of your surrender — which is another added benefit. A lawyer can also start communicating with the prosecutor about what you are charged with and can plant seeds of doubt in their mind prior to any hearings as well. This can be highly effective!
4) “My friend got XYZ deal, so I’ll get the same thing.”
This is also one of the most common things we hear from a potential client. They say, “my friend had this exact same situation and the judge released him on his own recognizance…and he was on the lamb for five years.” That may be the case, we often say, but every judge, every county, every prosecutor, and every case is 100% different from the rest.
Why? Because victims are different, facts are different, times are different, criminal histories are different, etc. No two cases are ever the same, and rarely are two cases treated equally from court to court and judge to judge and from defendant to defendant. Therefore, you can’t rely on an outcome you think might happen based on what you’ve heard before. Unless you wear a black robe, are referred to by “your honor,” and have a final say in the criminal court your warrant is out of, it’s best not to guess as to outcomes. Typically, you’ll be wrong.
5) “If you just ignore it, it’ll go away.”
Oh, if only that were true with all things in life. Ignorance is not always bliss. Ignoring a warrant or denying its existence does not make it disappear like a bad dream. And, given that most defendants caught on an outstanding warrant use the ignorance defense, regardless of whether you are telling the truth or not, the judge typically won’t buy what you are selling. It’s almost always better to acknowledge its existence, hire a lawyer, and address the issue head on.
Along with this misconception, defendants often think that with time prosecutors will lose interest, witnesses will forget, and evidence will be lost. Though this might be partially true in smaller counties, 99% of the time this isn’t the case. Typically, when a case goes into warrant status for an extended period of time, the case is just put on pause. Evidence is put in a safe place, the prosecutor’s file is put in a warrant drawer, and everything can be reinitiated on a moment’s notice.
And, even if you were to get lucky to have your case thrown out for lack of evidence or witness cooperation, the state can still file Failure to Appear charges against you as an A-Misdemeanor or D-Felony! They’ll get you one way or the other, we assure you.
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Though this list could go on and on, these are the five most common misconceptions that we hear out our law firm. As anyone can see from reading the information above, there is almost zero benefit from ignoring or running from a warrant or open case. The best thing a defendant can do, even as scary as it may be, is hire an attorney, address the situation head on, and work on getting the case behind you. Addressing it now is always the best and shortest option….otherwise, you are delaying the inevitable. Should you find yourself facing a criminal case with an open warrant, give the experienced attorneys at Banks & Brower a call today to discuss your options. Give us a call 24/7/365 at 317.870.0019 ex. 304, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.