arrest warrant

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An arrest warrant is a document issued by a judge or magistrate that authorizes the police to take someone accused of a crime into custody. An arrest warrant is issued by the competent authority upon a showing of probable cause, which means a warrant may be issued if a reasonable person would believe the information at hand is sufficient to suggest criminal activities.

Arrest warrants serve the purpose of protecting people from unlawful arrests under the Fourth Amendment. The warrant also gives an actual notice to the person or persons being arrested about the charges pressed against them.

An arrest warrant is preferred, but not required, to make a lawful arrest.

In City of Saint Paul v. Adolph Toblera, the Supreme Court of Minnesota defined an arrest warrant as “a judicial process by which, in the name of the state, a defendant is brought before the court to answer a criminal charge made against him.”

In Bienenstock v. McCoy et. al., the Supreme Court of New York stated that an arrest warrant “is a judicial order or command, in writing, in the name of the people, signed by an authorized judicial officer commanding the arrest of the defendant named for the crime charged therein.”

[Last updated in December of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]