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What Happens When There's A Warrant For Your Arrest In Another State That You Didn't Know About?

What happens when you're pulled over for a traffic violation and the officer suddenly informs you that there's an open warrant for your arrest in another state? Will you find yourself shipped out of state immediately? This is what you should know.

How can this happen?

The warrant wouldn't surprise you if you'd been involved in something dramatic -- like an armed robbery. Often, however, a surprise warrant is the result of something simple, like a missed court appearance.

For example, you may have had a fender bender a few years ago and thought that you simply had to make sure that your car insurance company took care of the damage to the other car and the other driver's injuries. You didn't realize that you also had to make an appearance at the courthouse the following week in order to face the judge. When you didn't show, the judge issued a bench warrant for your arrest. Your identifying information then went into local and national law enforcement databases and you became a fugitive from justice.

Why weren't you arrested at the time?

The odds are good that your city's police force simply didn't have the resources available to track you down and process the warrant immediately because it was so low-priority. Bench warrants for non-violent crimes are often put aside in order to deal with more serious issues. By the time the police went to serve the warrant and arrest you, you'd switched jobs or finished school and moved out of state.

Will you be sent back to the other state for trial?

The process of being sent back to another state for trial is called extradition, and it's permitted by Article IV of the U.S. Constitution. Many states follow the Uniform Criminal Extradition Act (UCEA), which gives general guidelines to follow during extraditions.

If you are arrested on an out-of-state warrant, the other state will be notified and given the opportunity to file the paperwork to request your transfer back to face charges. How long you can be held during this process varies from state to state. In Ohio, for example, you can be held a total of 90 days while you wait on extradition.

Can you fight extradition to another state?

You do have the right to challenge your extradition to another state. On the surface, it might seem like a good idea to be cooperative and waive your right to fight extradition, but that can actually really hurt you. In many states, that automatically means that you'll go to jail without bail until the other state gets through all the necessary paperwork and transportation arrangements. By not fighting the extradition, you are essentially agreeing that you're a fugitive from justice and the state won't take the chance that you'll disappear again.

If you contest the extradition, your attorney may be able to get you bail, which will allow you to get out of jail and handle whatever business you need to take care of in order to deal with this problem without wrecking your life. For example, you may be able to arrange to take a leave of absence from your job and make sure that someone is handling your bills for you.

Your attorney can also ask the judge for permission for you to travel out of state so that you can go back on your own and arrange to turn yourself in -- which can help you get any additional charges related to being a fugitive from justice dismissed. Your willingness to handle the problem can also demonstrate to a judge that you were genuinely unaware of the warrant.

There are also some ways to fight extradition to another state altogether. One of the purposes of the UCEA is to make sure that the right person is being extradited. If the warrant is a surprise to you, there's a possibility that you aren't the person being sought after by the other state, especially if you have a common name. Some people have also found themselves facing arrest after being the victims of identity theft. For example, an identity thief might use your information to open checking accounts and pass a few thousand dollars worth of bad checks before moving on. 

Whatever the reason that you're now facing extradition to another state, talk to an attorney before you make the decision to waive your rights.

To speak with a criminal lawyer, contact a law firm such as Alexander & Associates, P.C.