When do police need an arrest warrant to take a person to jail?

If you are pulled over for speeding, the police officer will likely “run your license” to see if you have any warrants – if there is an arrest warrant or a bench warrant, they will take you to jail.

In some cases, you may hear a knock at your door, or a sheriff’s deputy might show up at your job to serve an arrest warrant on you and take you to jail.

What about when police see a crime happening and arrest a person without a warrant, though? Do they need an arrest warrant? What if they are arresting a person for a magistrate court misdemeanor offense?

In this article, we will talk about arrest warrants in South Carolina, including:

  • The difference between an arrest warrant and a bench warrant,
  • What you should do if there is a warrant for your arrest, and
  • When the police don’t need an arrest warrant to take a person to jail.

What is an Arrest Warrant?

An arrest warrant is a legal document signed by a judge that authorizes law enforcement to arrest a person and take them to jail when there is probable cause that the person has committed a crime.

How are Arrest Warrants Issued?

When a police officer believes there is probable cause that a person has committed a crime, they can ask a judge to sign an arrest warrant for the person.

In most cases, the officer will submit a signed, notarized “warrant affidavit” as part of the arrest warrant that states the probable cause the arrest will be based upon. The judge then signs the warrant, authorizing any law enforcement officer to take the person into custody.

In most cases, arrest warrants are signed by magistrates or municipal court judges, but they can also be signed by circuit court judges.

In most cases, an arrest warrant is also the “charging document” that kicks off a criminal case. Not always, though. The initial charging document in a criminal case in South Carolina could be:

  • An arrest warrant – a grand jury will need to indict the case before it can go to trial,
  • A “direct indictment” – in some cases, a prosecutor will ask the grand jury to indict a person for a crime when no arrest warrant has been issued, or
  • A “uniform traffic ticket” or UTT – for some criminal offenses in SC, a blue ticket is all that is required, and neither an arrest warrant nor an indictment is necessary.

Bench Warrants

A bench warrant is a different kind of arrest warrant that doesn’t state probable cause that a crime has been committed but authorizes law enforcement to arrest a person for other reasons.

A bench warrant could be issued when a person:

  • Fails to appear for a mandatory court appearance,
  • Has their bond revoked,
  • Is found in contempt of court,
  • Is found guilty in their absence and sentenced to prison,
  • Ignores a subpoena requiring their appearance in court, or
  • Fails to pay their fine for a traffic violation.

Arrest warrants and bench warrants are entered in the NCIC (National Crime Information Center) database where any law enforcement will see them if they run your information.

What Should You Do if There is a Warrant for Your Arrest?

Call your criminal defense attorney immediately if you think there may be an arrest warrant or a bench warrant for your arrest. Your attorney may be able to:

  • Confirm whether there is an active warrant,
  • Make arrangements for you to turn yourself in on an arrest warrant,
  • Negotiate the terms of your bond or appear at your bond hearing to request a PR bond,
  • Talk to the prosecutor and attempt to get a bench warrant lifted,
  • Schedule a hearing on a motion to lift your bench warrant before you are arrested, or
  • Schedule a hearing on a motion to lift your bench warrant as soon as possible if you have already been arrested.

What if the Police Don’t Have an Arrest Warrant?

You may be surprised to learn that most arrests in South Carolina are not made with an arrest warrant.

In some cases, police will:

  • Arrest you first and then get an arrest warrant,
  • Arrest you on a blue ticket and never get an arrest warrant, or
  • Get a direct indictment from a grand jury without first seeking an arrest warrant.

Warrantless Arrests

“Come back with a warrant…”

…may not be the best response when a police officer is attempting to arrest you, because, in most cases, police do not need a warrant to make an arrest.

Did you know that anyone, including police officers, can make a citizen’s arrest – without a warrant – in South Carolina if they: 1) witness any felony being committed or 2) witness a larceny being committed?

I don’t recommend it, especially if you are not 100% sure which offenses are felonies and what constitutes larceny under SC law – because there is a fine line between a valid citizen’s arrest and criminal charges or a civil lawsuit for kidnapping.

Sheriff’s deputies are also authorized to make a warrantless arrest for any crime that is committed in their presence whether it is a felony or a misdemeanor.

In either case, the law enforcement officer will either seek a warrant from a judge or write a uniform traffic ticket after the arrest, because, unless there has been an indictment from the grand jury, the warrant or ticket will be the initial charging document that kicks off the criminal case.

Uniform Traffic Ticket (UTT) Arrests

In many cases, police officers do not need to seek a warrant or present probable cause to a judge, because SC law authorizes them to make an arrest with a blue uniform traffic ticket for:

  1. Any traffic offense, or
  2. Any offense that is listed in SC Code Section 56-7-10.

Questions About Arrest Warrants in SC? 

If you believe there is a warrant for your arrest, get help from an experienced South Carolina criminal defense lawyer immediately – before you contact the police, clerk of court, or prosecutor’s office.

Call 843-761-3840 or use this form to contact us today to discuss your case and start working towards the best possible outcome for you.

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