Are Warrants Public Record in Texas?
The Texas Rules of Judicial Administration classifies warrants as judicial records. Under Rule 12.4 of the law, judicial records, such as warrants, are open to the general public for inspection. The warrant is not subject to state law, federal law, or court order requiring confidentiality. Hence, members of the general public are allowed access to most warrant records in Texas. In the case where the Texas criminal record (within which it is contained) is expunged, the warrant is also deleted alongside.
What is a Warrant in Texas?
A Texas warrant is a legal document that authorizes police officers, peace officers, sheriffs, or other authorized law enforcement agents to make arrests, search persons or premises, and detain individuals. Without a warrant, these actions would be unlawful and would be violations of an individual’s rights.
Texas courts judges and magistrates issue different types of warrants as required in administering justice. Examples of warrants that the court issues are bench warrants, arrest warrants, tax warrants, and search warrants. Other types of warrants include child support warrants, execution warrants, complaint warrants, and alias warrants. The court issues warrants for different reasons and to different effects.
A fundamental requirement for the issuance of warrants is the establishment of probable cause. The requesting officer must, after a thorough investigation, demonstrate to the court that there is sufficient ground for the warrant to be issued. Sufficient grounds could be reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Failure to demonstrate probable cause may result in an infringement of an individual’s Fourth Amendment rights. Law enforcement officers who fail to demonstrate probable cause may be liable for damages from malicious prosecution.
The details usually featured in a warrant typically include the full name (first name, last and middle name) of the wanted person. Also featured is a physical description of the individual, including their height, weight, and eye color.
How to Find Out if You Have a Warrant in Texas?
To find out about outstanding warrants, interested parties may conduct Texas warrant searches in the following ways:
- Criminal history name search
- Local court, city, or county websites
- Sheriff’s office or court clerks
An interested person may conduct a Texas warrant search through the Department of Public Safety’s Criminal History Search service. The website allows users to search the arrest records, case dispositions, and prosecutions of persons arrested for offenses no less in severity than Class B misdemeanors. It also allows users to search deferred adjudications and Class C convictions that are reported to the Department of Public Safety. However, interested persons must sign up to use the service. Interested parties may also visit local court, city, or county websites. Some of these websites have warrant search portals and databases.
Alternatively, interested parties may visit the courthouse in the county where they live or contact the court clerk to find out if they have any outstanding warrants.
Records of warrants issued or executed in various jurisdictions are also maintained and by third-party websites. While third-party sites make accessing these records substantially easier, the information available on the sites may vary since they are not government run sources. To obtain warrant records from a third-party site, the requesting party may be required to provide:
- The personal information of the alleged suspect
- Information regarding the issuing officer
- The location where the warrant was issued.
How Long Does a Warrant Stay Active in Texas?
Warrants stay active for different lengths of time, depending on the type of warrant and the reason the court issued the warrant. In Texas, search warrants have execution windows within which a law enforcement officer may search the person or property named on the warrant. After the search window expires, the warrant is no longer valid. However, if the court finds that probable cause still exists for the search or seizure, the court may re-issue the warrant.
Other warrants like arrest warrants and bench warrants typically stay active until the defendant resolves the warrant or a judge recalls the warrant. These warrants do not become inactive even after long periods or after the subject moves to a different location. Given the long-term validity of warrants and the complications that often come with having an outstanding warrant, it is best to resolve warrants as soon as possible.
An individual who wants to find out about any outstanding warrants issued against them may conduct a Texas warrant search. Such persons must then contact skilled criminal defense attorneys who can aid the case resolution.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Warrant in Texas?
In Texas, it can take a matter of minutes or hours to get a Warrant. This time limit significantly depends on how long it takes a state law enforcement agency officer to type up a probable cause affidavit for an individual arrest or search. Afterward, the officer would give the affidavit to a prosecutor’s office representing the officer’s law enforcement agency. The prosecutor then submits the affidavit to a state court’s judge to sign it and issue the warrant.
What is a Texas Search Warrant?
A search warrant in Texas authorizes the bearer to search a person or property. According to Chapter 18 of the Texas Criminal Code, search warrants authorize law enforcement agents such as peace officers to search, seize, and bring the items found before the court. If there is sufficient ground to believe that the person named on the warrant has committed an offense, the warrant can order the person’s arrest.
Before a judge or a magistrate issues a search warrant, the requesting officer must show that there are sufficient grounds for the judge or magistrate to issue the warrant. In Texas, the grounds for issuing a search warrant include situations where there is cause to believe that an offense has been committed. A judge or magistrate may issue a search warrant for the following:
- Gambling equipment or devices
- Unlawfully owned property
- Property obtained by theft
- Property used in the commission of an offense
- Prohibited weapons
- Property containing evidence of an offense
- Equipment used in the commission of an offense
- Cell phones
- Electronic data
Texas search warrants for electronic data are valid for up to 11 days. Similarly, search warrants strictly for DNA analysis are valid for up to 15 days. However, law enforcement agents must execute all other types of search warrants within three (3) days. Search warrants in Texas must contain the following:
- The name of the property or person subject to the search, seizure, or arrest
- The judge or magistrate’s name and office
- The judge or magistrate’s signature and the date of issue
- A command directed at a peace officer to search, seize, or arrest
What Can Make a Texas Search Warrant Invalid?
The Fourth Amendment guarantees citizens and residents of the safety of their lives, homes, and properties. The law protects individuals against unreasonable search and seizure by ensuring that any requests for warrants are accompanied by a demonstration of probable cause and a sworn affidavit. Search warrants who do not meet these requirements may be illegal. In Texas, a search warrant can be invalid if:
- The requesting officer does not adequately demonstrate probable cause for the issuance of the warrant
- The requesting officer makes false claims in the affidavit.
The court may not admit evidence obtained from illegal searches in a trial. The defendant may file a motion with the court to suppress such evidence, making the evidence subject to the exclusionary rule. The rule disallows evidence obtained from the use of illegal search warrants from being admitted in court.
How to Conduct an Active Warrant Search in Texas
Interested parties can conduct an active warrant search in Texas through law enforcement agencies within the jurisdiction the warrant was issued. Most law enforcement agenices maintain online search portals inquirers could use to conduct active warrant searches for warrants issued within their jurisdictions. For instance, interested persons can search for active misdemeanor arrest warrants issued within Harris County through the Warrant Search page the County Sheriff’s Office provides. On the search page, searches can be conducted using a subject’s name or SPN number.
Another example is the Warrant Search portal provided by the Travis County Sheriff’s Office, which inquirers can use to find active warrants issued in Travis County. Like warrant search portals provided by other County Sheriff’s Offices, an inquirer can conduct an active warrant search using a subject’s name in the Travis County Warrant Search portal. Inquirers must also provide the subject’s date of birth along with their name. Alternatively, an inquirer can search by providing only a case number.
Some Texas cities also host online warrant search services on their official city websites that inquirers can use to find active warrants issued within their city limits. Some examples of these services include the Austin City Police Department Warrant list and Carrollton City Active warrant Search page.
Information about warrants inquirers can expect to get through some of the aforementioned active warrant search services includes:
- The subject full name and physical description
- Offense description
- Court case number
- Bond amount
- Warrant number
- Warrant type
Free Warrant Search Options in Texas
In Texas, interested persons can conduct a free warrant search through online resources provided by law enforcement agencies in the state. However, warrants that can be found through these online resources are usually limited to those issued in specific jurisdictions, such as the county or city the agency oversees.
Inquirers can search for warrants issued across Texas through third-party websites that provide Texas warrant search services. It is common for most of these third-party websites to charge their users a fee or subscription to use services their website provides. However, some third-party websites may allow users to conduct warrant searches for free. The disadvantage of free third-party websites is that the search results might not be as detailed as those from paid websites or some warrant information might be withheld. Hence, inquirers are generally advised to opt for paid third-party websites if they choose to go this route.
What is an Arrest Warrant in Texas?
An arrest warrant authorizes the bearer to arrest and detain the person named on the warrant. As provided by Chapter 15 of the Texas Criminal Code, a judge, magistrate, or court clerk may issue an arrest warrant. Texas arrest warrants must contain the following:
- The magistrate’s signature and office
- A statement of the defendant’s alleged offense
- The defendant’s name or a clear description of the defendant
State and federal laws require the establishment of probable cause before the issuance of a warrant. This means that a requesting officer, which could be a peace officer, district attorney, or other law enforcement agent, must file a complaint and an affidavit to demonstrate to the court the need for the arrest warrant. The complaint must state the reason the requesting officer believes that the defendant has committed an offense and the place and time of the offense. The complaint must also carry the requesting officer’s signature.
Texas laws permit an arresting officer to use as much force as is necessary when making an arrest. Additionally, if, in a felony case, the officer has announced himself and the defendant refuses the officer entry, the defendant may break the door of any residence to arrest the defendant. Arresting officers do not need to be in possession of the warrant at the time of the arrest. However, the officer must inform the defendant of the offense and of the warrant’s existence. If the arresting officer does not have a copy of the warrant at the time of the arrest, the officer must provide the defendant a copy as soon as possible.
The Department of Public Safety (DPS) and the Texas courts may not give notice of the existence of warrants, and the law allows warrants to be executed anywhere in the state. This means that the person named on the warrant may be arrested at any time and anywhere in the state. To avoid unexpected stops and arrests, Texas residents and citizens may conduct warrant searches periodically. It is important for persons who find that they have unresolved arrest warrants to contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible, as attorneys can help resolve the case quicker.
What is a Child Support Arrest Warrant in Texas?
Defaulting on child support payments can result in arrest in Texas. A child support arrest is a type of warrant that Texas courts issue for the arrest of parents who willfully fail to make child support payments when due. In Texas, the Attorney General’s Office enforces child support payments. The court issues child support payment arrest warrants if:
- The defaulting parent owes at least $5000 in child support payments
- The defaulting parent is at least six (6) months behind on payment
- The parent is not on public assistance or going through bankruptcy
Defaulting parents must appear in court for a hearing, where the judge will determine whether the default is wilful. Child support payment orders are court orders, and as such, defaulting on child support payments is tantamount to violation of court orders. Parents who default on child support payments may be found to be in contempt of court. In this case, failure to make child support payments could result in fines and jail terms.
Texas Penal Code - PENAL § 25.05 defines criminal non-support as willfully refusing to pay child support. The law classifies criminal non-support as a state jail felony. In Texas, state jail felony offenses are punishable by at least 180 days and at most two (2) years in state jail. The Attorney General’s office also enforces child support payments in other ways, including:
- Wage garnishment
- License suspension
- Property lien
What is a Texas Bench Warrant?
A Texas bench warrant is a type of warrant that the court issues for the arrest of persons who fail to show up in court as scheduled. This could include witnesses, jurors, and defendants. There are different types of bench warrants, depending on the reason the court summoned the individual. Texas bench warrants do not expire; persons who have bench warrants out for their arrest may be detained or arrested at traffic stops or anywhere on identification. Additionally, bail bondsmen may track down and arrest persons who have outstanding bench warrants.
Capias warrants are issued to peace officers in the state for the arrest of persons who failed to appear in court summons in relation to felony or misdemeanor cases (Texas Criminal Code - CRIM § 23.03). Judges and court clerks may issue bench warrants in Texas. In order to guard against unexpected arrest or detention, citizens and residents should run regular Texas warrant searches to determine whether there are any outstanding bench warrants.
In Texas, What is Failure to Appear?
Texas courts issue Failure to Appear warrants for the arrest of persons who fail to attend court hearings as scheduled. Failure to appear can result in civil or criminal penalties in Texas. It is important to note that the court may not penalize persons who have reasonable excuses for missing court or failing to appear. Reasonable excuses include hospitalization, imprisonment, a death in the family, and other circumstances outside the individual’s control.
If the court finds that the defendant willfully missed court, it may result in fines of up to $500 and imprisonment terms. The penalty for missing court depends on the offense for which the court required the individual to be present. A failure to appear warrant is a type of bench warrant. Texas courts issue failure to appear warrants for persons who fail to appear in court after release from custody (Texas Penal Code - PENAL § 38.10). Failure to appear may result in bond forfeiture, which means that the defendant would owe the bail bondsman the bail amount.
How Long Do You Have to Stay in Jail for a Warrant for Missing Court in Texas?
Texas courts can charge any person who fails to appear in court as scheduled with a criminal offense. The length of time that person stays in jail depends on the offense the court charges the person with. In Texas, missing court or jumping bail can result in a misdemeanor or felony charge. As provided by Texas Penal Code - PENAL § 38.10, if a person is released from custody and the person fails to appear in court when required, the person may be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.
However, if the offense is only punishable by a fine, the person is guilty of a Class C misdemeanor. If the offense for which the person failed to appear is a felony, then the person will be guilty of a third-degree felony. In Texas, the law only penalizes Class C misdemeanors with fines of up to $500. There is no jail time involved. However, Class A misdemeanors attract up to one (1) year in jail, while third-degree felony offenses can attract up to ten (10) years in prison.
In Texas, What is Failure to Pay?
Failure to Pay is a type of arrest warrant that the court issues for the arrest of persons who fail to pay fines, court fees, or any other court-ordered payment. Failure to pay may also result in additional charges if the default was willful. Persons who fail to pay court-ordered fees may be charged with an infraction or a misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances. The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) may deny such persons an opportunity to renew driver’s licenses. Additionally, persons who fail to pay court-ordered fees may be liable for additional fines.
What is a No-Knock Warrant in Texas?
A no-knock warrant allows Texas law enforcement officers to execute a warrant or search a person or property without knocking or any other form of announcement. In Texas, magistrates or any other officers of the law may not issue no-knock warrants; only judges may issue no-knock warrants. Texas issues no-knock warrants when necessary, especially in the following cases:
- When there is a risk of harm to the executing officer
- When there is a risk that evidence may be destroyed or suspects may escape
- When a knock would allow residents to arm themselves
According to House Bill 1272, officers who execute no-knock warrants in Texas must wear uniforms and be clearly identifiable while executing the warrant. Officers must also wear body cameras during the execution. Bill 1272 limits the timeframe for executing a warrant to between 6 am and 10 pm.
How to Perform a Federal Warrant Search
The Warrant Information System (WIN), managed by the U.S. Department of Justice in collaboration with US federal courts, can be used to perform federal warrant searches. WIN is a tracking system authorized law enforcement agencies can use to find federal warrants when investigating federal fugitives. WIN has access constraints that restrict public access to the system. Hence only authorized law enforcement agencies are allowed access to WIN.
Nonetheless, there are databases of public federal warrants provided by third-party websites through which members of the general public can conduct a federal warrant search. On most of these third-party databases, inquirers can conduct a search using a subject’s full name or other information about the warrant. Inquirers should note that, in most cases, these databases are not available for free use. Hence, users may need to pay a fee to use the service.
Does Texas DMV Check for Warrants?
Texas DMV may check for outstanding warrants against an individual when processing their application for licensing or registration of a vehicle. In Texas, driver’s licenses are issued and renewed through the state Department of Public Safety (DPS). The DPS system generally flags an individual's outstanding warrants when their name is entered into the system. A law enforcement officer is usually present at DPS offices to detain individuals with outstanding warrants. Normally, DPS does not suspend a person's driving privileges due to an outstanding warrant. However, under Sec. 706.004, a court can request that the DPS suspends an individual’s ability to renew their driving privileges due to an outstanding warrant.