How Can I Clear Up an Old Warrant?

Every now and then, someone will call our office wanting to know how to address an outstanding arrest warrant.  People are seldom confused as to why courts have ordered their arrests, but they are often in the dark about what to do about it.  This article is meant to help with that.

Many people want to know how to make those pesky warrants just go away.  The bad news is this: they do not just go away because enough time passes.

If you got a warrant because you missed a court date a few days ago, you or your lawyer may be able to get the warrant rescinded (cancelled).  Otherwise, you will need to turn yourself in.  The good news is that there are things you can do to maximize your chances of getting released when you turn yourself in.

Two Types of Warrants

There are two types of arrest warrants: bench-warrants and warrants-in-the-first.

Bench-warrants are arrest warrants ordered by courts when defendants do not appear for their court dates.  In order for a court to retain jurisdiction over such a defendant, the court must order the defendant’s arrest so it can maintain control over his or her case.

A warrant-in-the-first (short for ‘warrant in the first instance’) is sought by the police where they believe someone has committed a crime.  Police usually seek a warrant-in-the-first when they cannot find the defendant, or when the defendant refuses to turn himself or herself in.

Once a court issues a warrant, a notation is added to a national police database called ‘CPIC’.  Failure to respond to either a bench-warrant or a warrant-in-the-first can result in you getting arrested at a time or place you wouldn’t prefer.  That means that if you are pulled over by the police on the highway, or if you are at a party the police barge in on, you may be arrested there and then.  In order to avoid that, you will want to clear up that warrant.

People with outstanding warrants often feel as though they have tough music to face.  This is understandable because addressing an arrest warrant usually means turning yourself in.

The first step is to first find out whether you have a warrant out at all.  The easiest way to find this out – and in some cases the only way – is to simply call the police station in the city where you think you have the warrant.

If, however, you think you have a bench-warrant because you recently missed a court date, you can have the warrant cancelled by having it rescinded.

Rescinding a Warrant

This is only possible for bench-warrants that result from missed court dates.  If a warrant-in-the-first was not properly issued, there is a complicated process to “quash” it, but an explanation on that will require another article.

In order to rescind a warrant that was properly issued after missing a court date (due to an honest mistake, for instance), you or your lawyer should call the Crown prosecutor’s office to explain what happened.  The prosecutor may agree to join you in asking a judge to rescind the warrant.

You or your lawyer will then have to bring the matter into a bail court.  In Ontario, this will require you to write a written application on a court form called a “Form 1.”  Call the court administrative desk to get the “Information number” to put on your Form 1.  You will also need to get a court date from the administration desk so you can put your matter in a bail court.

On the Form 1, explain why you wish to rescind the warrant, and put the date you got from the administrative desk to bring the matter into bail court.  Serve one copy on the prosecutor and get the prosecutor’s office to stamp a file for the court.  Then file that copy with the court’s administration desk and keep a copy for yourself.

If the prosecutor agrees to have the warrant rescinded, both you (or your lawyer) and the Crown will ask the judge or justice of the peace to do so.  That will be easy.

If the prosecutor does not agree, you or your lawyer will need to make arguments as to why the warrant should be rescinded.  If the Crown does not agree to ask for the warrant to be rescinded, you need to be prepared to be arrested.  You may also be charged with failing to attend court.  That will be another criminal offence you will have to defend.

Will I Have to Turn Myself In?

If you cannot rescind your warrant (e.g., because too much time has passed), the police will want you to turn yourself in.  The bad news is that turning yourself in will be just about the only way to make the warrant go away.  The good news is that you can maximize your chances of a speedy release.

One of the most important factors that determine whether an arrested person gets released is the likelihood that he or she will show up to court.  By turning yourself in, you show the police and the court that you are interested in answering to your charges.  By hiding and running, you show them that they should be worried about losing track of you.

It is possible that the police will release you from the police station with a new court date.  If, however, the police do not release you from the station, they will need to bring you into bail court within 24 hours.  For the sake of your comfort, try to arrange an appointment with the police for about 7:00AM.  That way, they can bring you to bail court early and you will not need to spend the night in a cell.

If you are released, you will almost certainly be released on conditions.  You will be legally obligated to obey those conditions while your case progresses.  It’s either that or you wait in jail until your case is closed.

How Can I Increase the Chances of Being Released?

There are three main things courts think about when determining whether to release a person on bail:

  1. likelihood of the accused showing up to court;
  2. likelihood of the accused committing another offence or harming the public; and
  3. public confidence in the administration of justice.

The chances of your release will be quite high if you do not have a lengthy criminal record, and the offence is less serious.  Once you are brought into bail court, you or your lawyer can negotiate with the prosecutor to work out a plan for your release.  That plan will be enforced by new bail conditions on a legal agreement with the court called a “recognizance.”  Once you agree to those conditions in court, you are legally bound by them.  If you cannot agree with those conditions, or if the prosecutor cannot agree to your release, you will need a judge or a justice of the peace to decide what release conditions to put in your recognizance.  This will require you or your lawyer to make arguments to the court.

The third factor – public confidence in the administration of justice – has to do with the seriousness of the alleged offence and the strength of the prosecution’s case.  Unfortunately, there is nothing anyone can do about that, but there are some things you can do about the first two factors.  Here are some examples:

  • Have one or two people (e.g., parents or siblings) promise the court that they will ensure that you will obey your release conditions (and have that person’s phone number, and make sure that they can appear in bail court on the day you turn yourself in); those people are called “sureties”;
  • Have your sureties prepare to pay money (usually $1,000 to $5,000) if they fail to ensure that you obey your release conditions;
  • Form a plan to live with your sureties;
  • Show that you will be living far from the alleged victim (if any); or
  • Show that you have been (or will be) getting counselling for any addictions or mental health difficulties that may be related to the offence.

Working out a good release plan pays dividends in securing a timely release.

Final Thoughts

Addressing outstanding warrants is indeed intimidating.  Addressing them head on, however, will put you in the best possible position.  Call a lawyer, and get the advice you need.

by Matthew Wolfson

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to call David or Matthew at David Anber’s law office for more information.