How to stay on the right side of the law if issued a warrant

The smallest thing may trigger a warrant for your arrest – like forgotten fines to missing a court date. Here's what you should know to stay on the right side of the law in that event.

How to stay on the right side of the law if issued a warrant

What are warrants?

When a court issues an arrest warrant, it means that it has “reasonable and probable grounds” to believe someone has committed an offence. The document is essentially a tool that authorizes police to apprehend the accused in public, or in his or her dwelling, and then bring that person before the court.

  • Warrants are typically issued when an accused fails to appear for an appointed court date, or otherwise contravenes conditions of their pre-trial release. These are known as “bench warrants.”
  • What's more, warrants are also issued when the accused deliberately avoids the police or if their description is established (often by photo) but identity is unknown.
  • Until the accused makes the relevant court appearance, warrants remain in effect – a circumstance referred to as an “outstanding warrant.”

What is the role of the police?

The duty of police executing an arrest warrant consists of giving notice of the warrant to the accused, and presenting it when possible, along with a description of the alleged offence.

  • In minor matters or if the accused made an honest mistake in missing a court date, it is within the officer’s discretion to issue a summons on the spot and let the accused go free.
  • More often, though, it means a trip to the police station to wait in custody for an appearance before a magistrate.

Can warrants be Canada-wide?

Most arrest warrants are limited to province where the initial offence occurred.

  • Only at the Superior Court level may a judge order a Canada-wide warrant, normally with respect to more serious crimes.

In practice, however, provincial borders are not impermeable to the reach of another jurisdiction.

For example
If you live in Ontario and are pulled over for speeding in British Columbia, the arresting officer will run your name through the Canadian Police Information Centre database.

  • If you have an Ontario warrant, BC police may choose to inform their Ontario counterparts who, in turn, could elect to have you forcibly returned to face the charge.
  • This generally occurs only when the charge is serious because of the expenses involved.

Discharging warrants

The only way to take a warrant off your record is by appearing in the court that issued it in the first place.

  • Turning yourself in is more positively viewed by courts, as opposed to being dragged in by police.
  • Be aware that many warrants amount to what they call “pay or stay,” which are cases where all they want is for you to pay an outstanding fine, and then you can be on your way.

By rendering yourself before the court on your own time and terms, you will be able to schedule a lawyer to be at your side – and clearly this is one of many situations where trying to go without a lawyer may not be in your best interest.

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