What happens if there is a warrant for my arrest?


If there is a warrant for your arrest in a particular jurisdiction – for example, Alberta, or Canada – the police in that jurisdiction have the authority to arrest you. Once you are arrested, you may be released by a police officer on an appearance notice or undertaking or you may be held while you wait to have a bail hearing in front of a justice of the peace or judge.

In most cases, having a warrant for your arrest is not what some television shows and movies make it out to be – the police are not usually going to great lengths to find you and bring you to jail. However, the police may be searching for you, and if you happen to come across the police (and tell them who you are) for any reason, you will almost certainly be arrested. Even if you happen to drive by a highway patrol officer who runs your license plate through a police database – and police routinely do this – you may be pulled over and arrested.

Having a warrant is serious because you could be arrested at any time. Ignoring a warrant will not make it go away. In fact, once there is a warrant for your arrest, it will remain in place until you are arrested, or the warrant is deemed executed in court. No one wants an arrest warrant hanging over their head. If there is a warrant for your arrest, the best course of action will depend on your circumstances. An experienced criminal defence lawyer can help you through that process.

What is An Arrest Warrant?

An arrest warrant is a court-endorsed legal document that allows the police to arrest someone accused of an offence and bring them before the court. The warrant will include the accused person’s name, a brief description of the offence that they committed, and a court order that the accused person be arrested and brought before the court of the jurisdiction in which the warrant was issued “forthwith” (i.e., immediately).

Before a warrant can be issued for your arrest, any information must be laid before the court. An information is a sworn document stating what offence you are accused of, including when and where the crime allegedly happened, and why the police have the necessary grounds to believe that you did it. For most offences, this means that the police have reasonable and probable grounds to believe that you committed the offence of which you are accused. Usually, a police officer will swear to the information. The court must also consider the evidence of any witnesses it considers desirable or necessary to do so. If the court is then satisfied that the case for issuing the warrant is made out, it will issue the warrant. In most cases, this means that, if a warrant is issued for your arrest, then a judge or justice is satisfied – based on objectively and subjectively reasonable grounds provided in a sworn statement – that it is more likely than not that you have committed the crime with which you are accused. This is why the judge or justice then gives the police the power to arrest you and bring you to court.

Sometimes, the court is wrong in the law, and the warrant for your arrest should not have been granted, and you should not have been arrested. This may help strengthen your defence. For example, if the police arrested you without actually having the necessary (reasonable and probable) grounds to do so, then you may be entitled to a remedy under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, such as exclusion of evidence that the police gathered when they arrested you. This is a complicated area of law, and it is unrealistic to expect people who are not experts in criminal law to know their rights in these kinds of situations. I can help.

What is a Bench Warrant?

If you do not attend your scheduled court appearance, not only will you likely be charged with a separate criminal offence for doing so, but the court will also likely issue a warrant for your arrest in open court. Warrants for your arrest issued by a judge or justice in this way are known as bench warrants. Bench warrants can cause serious complications in your criminal matter and should be avoided. However, if you find yourself in this situation, I may be able to help. I may even be able to get your warrant “vacated”, and your failure to appear charge withdrawn. The sooner you act, the more likely it is that I can help you in this way.

Why would There Be a Warrant for My Arrest?

There may be a warrant for your arrest for a number of reasons. For example:

  • You have been charged but the police have not yet found you.
  • You have failed to appear in court.
  • You were issued an appearance notice but failed to attend for fingerprinting as required.
  • You were released on an undertaking but breached a condition of your undertaking.
  • You were released on bail but breached a condition of your release.
  • You were sentenced to a conditional sentencing order and breached a condition of that order.
  • You were served a subpoena to attend court as a witness but failed to do so.

How Do I know if there is a Warrant for My Arrest?

There are a number of ways to find out if there is a warrant for your arrest, but the best way to do so is by hiring a criminal defence lawyer to find out for you, and to help you come up with a plan for the best way to turn yourself in if there is a warrant for your arrest.

It can be difficult to determine on your own if there is a warrant for your arrest. If you hire me as your lawyer, I can make inquiries to determine if there is a warrant for your arrest. If there is a warrant for your arrest, I can then discuss a plan with you to deal with addressing the warrant. Arrest warrants stay with you until you are arrested. The one exception is when the court “deems” a warrant executed in court. Having a deemed warrant deemed executed is a challenging process, and the court will typically only do it if the warrant should not have been issued, or your lawyer appeared to fail in court on your behalf through no fault of your own.

Do not take an unnecessary risk. If you do not know whether there may be a warrant for your arrest, contact an experienced criminal defence lawyer. If there is not a warrant for your arrest, but you that you may be arrested sometime in the future, I can also provide you with pre-charge advice to ensure that you are informed and prepared.

What Happens if There is a Warrant for My Arrest in Another Province?

Warrants only apply in the jurisdiction in which they were issued or endorsed. That means that a warrant issued in the Provincial Court of Alberta, for example, is only enforceable in the province of Alberta, unless it was endorsed by another province. Warrants issued in a court of appeal or “superior court” – for example, the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench – are enforceable across Canada. This is because these courts are courts of “federal jurisdiction”, in that their authority comes from Canada, not the province they happen to be in. Warrants issued by these courts are commonly called “Canada-wide warrants”. Most warrants are issued in provincial court. Unless you are facing a warrant for arrest on a very serious crime – such as murder – your warrant was very likely issued in provincial court, meaning that it is not enforceable in another province – unless it was endorsed in that province.

A justice can endorse a warrant that was issued in a different jurisdiction if the warrant cannot be executed in the jurisdiction in which it was issued. This is commonly known as “backing” a warrant, and it allows a warrant issued by one province to be executed in another. For example, if you have a warrant for your arrest in Alberta, and your warrant is endorsed in British Columbia, then the police in British Columbia can arrest you and bring you to Alberta. Keeping with this example, in order for a British Columbia justice to endorse the Alberta warrant, the British Columbia justice has to find that doing so is necessary because you cannot be arrested in Alberta, and that you are – or are believed to be – in British Columbia. The justice can only grant this application if it is supported by proof on oath, or affidavit on the signature of the justice who issued the warrant.

Knowing where your warrant is enforceable can be complicated, and travelling within and between provinces with any kind of a warrant may be risky. The more you know, the better. If you have a warrant for your arrest in another province – or think you may – it is always best to speak with an experienced criminal defence lawyer.

What Should I Do if There is a Warrant for My Arrest?

If there is a warrant for your arrest – or if you think there might be – you should contact an experienced criminal defence right away for pre-charge advice. The longer you wait, the greater the likelihood that you will find yourself unexpectedly arrested and detained without a plan for release.