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a## Are Warrants Public Records in Washington?

In Washington, warrants are subject to the state Public Record Act (RCW Section 42.56). According to the Act, records generated by public agencies in the state are accessible to the general public upon request. Public agencies include courts and law enforcement agencies. Since these agencies are generally responsible for generating and enforcing warrants in the state, interested persons can query them to obtain information on warrants issued in the state. However, a court order or particular state or federal laws can exempt specific warrants from public access. If a Washington criminal record is expunged or deleted, all associated warrants are also restricted from disclosure.

What is Considered a Warrant in Washington?

A warrant in Washington refers to a document used by peace officers to carry out a legal action (arrest, search, or seizure) within their jurisdiction. Warrants ensure that the action follows the state laws and does not violate any citizen's rights.

Washington state courts are responsible for issuing warrants. Generally, a judge must sign the warrant to enable its lawful execution by peace officers. Types of warrants in the state include arrest warrants, search warrants, child support warrants, and bench warrants.

A prerequisite to the court issuing a warrant is the establishment of probable cause. This means that before any judge can approve a warrant application, the requesting peace officer must provide sufficient reasons for the warrant.

A warrant may contain the full name and physical description of the subject, including their race, weight, height, and eye color.

How to Find Out if You Have a Warrant in Washington?

Interested persons can find out if they have an outstanding warrant in Washington through a sheriff's office or police department.

Since law enforcement officers are responsible for executing warrants, they maintain warrant records and provide such information to the public. This information may also be shared on the agency's website or their wanted persons page. For instance, the Washington State Patrol provides warrant records on its Washington Access to Criminal History site. Inquirers can create an account and gain access to criminal records, including warrant information.

Also, the Department of Corrections offers a warrant search tool that allows users to obtain information about persons with outstanding secretary warrants. Searches can be done with a name, DOC number, crime type, or county.

Likewise, county sheriff's offices allow individuals to conduct warrant searches in person or on their sites. For example, the Criminal Warrants Unit of the King County Sheriff's Office provides pending warrants on its site.

Persons can also locate outstanding warrants by requesting such information from the clerk of the court responsible for the issuance. The clerk provides warrant information to the public on request.

Many online databases can assist individuals in carrying out warrant searches to find out if they have active warrants in the state. 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 Washington?

Warrants in Washington generally stay active until the expiration date set by the court. Usually, most warrants are executable within a certain period. If the warrant is not served, it ceases to be active after seven years from the date of issuance.

However, if a warrant becomes inactive, a prosecutor can ask the court to reissue it, or the court may do so of its own volition. For instance, the courts usually reissue bench warrants for DUIs when they become inactive.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Warrant in Washington?

In Washington, getting a warrant depends on how long a prosecutor takes to convince a court judge of the need for the warrant. The prosecutor may do this in a matter of minutes or hours. A general rule is that the prosecuting office must have probable cause or present an indictment before issuing a warrant. A summons may also be issued in lieu of a warrant. If the person fails to respond to the summons within a reasonable time, a warrant may then be issued for their arrest.

How Do Search Warrants Work in Washington?

Per Washington Criminal Rule 2.3, a Washington search warrant gives the bearer authority to search a particular property or location and seize items permitted by the document. The courts can issue this warrant upon request from a prosecuting attorney or law enforcement officer if, by searching a person or place, the police will find:

  • Illegal items or items used to commit crimes or things possessed through unlawful means.
  • Proof of a criminal offense.
  • Weapons or other possessions used to commit a crime or kept to commit a crime.
  • An individual to be arrested or a lawfully restrained individual.
  • Counterfeit coins, machines, or materials used to make them.
  • Gaming gadgets used or stored in illegal gaming houses or other places.

State courts must ensure probable cause exists before issuing a Washington search warrant. Usually, the warrant requester will provide this evidence through affidavits, statements, or sworn testimonies.

A Washington search warrant must be executed within ten days of issuance, or it becomes void. Also, it must include:

  • The individual and location to be searched.
  • The property or item the officers can seize.
  • The period within which the executing officer must return the warrant to the court.

Alongside the warrant, the officer must also submit to the court a written list of items taken from the scene.

How Does a Washington Search Warrant Become Invalid?

Generally, a Washington search warrant becomes invalid if it is not executed legally or there was no reasonable probable cause for the issuance. Also, police officers cannot seize items that are not contained in the warrant.

Victims of illegal searches and seizures can challenge the warrant in court. If the verdict is in their favor, the warrant becomes invalid, and the court will order the return of their property.

Per RCW 10.79.040, police officers who search a private residence or a person without a valid search warrant commit a gross misdemeanor. Such officers face incarceration in a county jail for a year, a maximum fine of $5,000, or both.

How to Conduct an Active Warrant Search in Washington

Interested persons inquire about an active warrant in Washington by querying the law enforcement agencies in the jurisdiction where the warrant was issued. These law enforcement agencies include county sheriff's offices and local police departments. Interested parties can conduct active warrant searches in person at a law enforcement agency’s office or through online databases/tools usually provided on the agency’s official website.

Inquirers can also query the clerk’s office of the courthouse that issued the warrant to obtain information on the active warrant. Some courthouses provide phone numbers inquirers can call to inquire about active warrants. For instance, if the warrant is a misdemeanor warrant issued by Snohomish County District Court, inquirers can call the court at (425) 388-3331 to inquire about the warrant. Meanwhile, for felony warrants issued in Snohomish County, inquirers can visit the County Clerk’s Office in person or call the office at (425) 388-3466 to make inquiries.

Interested persons can also use some third-party websites to conduct an active warrant search in Washington. Users may be allowed to search for free using the first name and the last name of the wanted person. However, only basic information about warrants is provided through these websites. Users are usually required to pay a fee to access more detailed information about warrants.

Inquiries are usually required to provide details about the warrant when making an active warrant search request through any warrant information custodian’s office or online tools. These details include the warrant’s subject’s name.

Free Warrant Search Options in Washington

Online search tools and warrant lists provided by law enforcement agencies in Washington are usually free to use. An excellent example of one such tool is the Warrant Search tool provided by the Washington State Department of Corrections. This tool allows interested persons to search for individuals with an outstanding standing secretary’s warrant against them. Another example is the online Criminal Warrants Search portal provided by the criminal warrant unit of King’s County Sheriff’s Office.

Some courts in Washington also provide online tools inquirers can use to conduct free warrant searches. One example is the Search Warrant Record Access Portal provided by the King County Superior Court Clerk’s Office. Through this portal, users can conduct a warrant search for records on search warrants issued by the Court.

Most of the free warrant search tools provided by Washington state agencies usually only provide information on specific types of warrants issued in specific areas in the state. For a more comprehensive warrant search, interested persons can use third-party websites that offer Washington state warrant search services for a more comprehensive warrant search. Most third-party websites usually have no geographic limitations. Hence, users can use such websites to search for information on warrants issued across Washington. Although some third-party websites may provide free warrant search options, such search results usually provide basic information on relevant warrants. Users are typically asked to pay a fee or subscription to access more detailed information about warrants.

Washington Arrest Warrants: Rules of Procedure

Following Washington Criminal Rule 2.2, an arrest warrant in Washington authorizes the apprehension of certain persons suspected of violating the state's criminal laws. Usually, a judge or magistrate issues this warrant type, but a court clerk may issue it with the court's permission.

Before any court grants the request for a warrant, the requesters may need to appear in court for examination under oath to determine probable cause for the arrest. This process occurs through an affidavit, relevant statements, or a sworn testimony that reveals acceptable grounds for an arrest warrant.

An important requirement for the issuance of an arrest warrant is the subject's current address. Law enforcement will usually obtain this address from the following places:

  • The District Court Information System
  • Driver's license and identity card information generated by the Department of Licenses
  • The Department of Corrections database (for incarcerated individuals and those under supervision).

However, this may not be necessary if:

  • The defendant's name is unknown
  • The defendant has already appeared in court for the same criminal proceeding or
  • The defendant is already detained.

Washington arrest warrants contain the following details:

  • The name and address of the person to be apprehended. (A detailed description of the subject will suffice if the person's name is unknown.)
  • The alleged offense.
  • A signature of the issuing authority.
  • The period that officers can legally execute the warrant

Child Support Arrest Warrants in Washington: What You Need to Know

A child support arrest warrant in Washington results from situations where a non-custodial parent violates a child support order.

Failure of an obligor to comply with the support order can result in a contempt action, and the court will direct the obligor to appear in court to explain why they did not follow the order. Usually, the obligor will receive the order through personal service or other methods approved by the court. The court may also include a warning of the possibility of the issuance of an arrest warrant if the obligor does not show up in court. When the obligor misses this hearing, the court can issue a bench warrant for their apprehension (RCW 26.18.050).

The custodial parent can also submit a motion to enforce the support order if the non-custodial parent fails to perform their obligation. A hearing date will be arranged, and the court can issue an arrest warrant if the obligor fails to attend the hearing.

Washington Bench Warrants: Issuing and Arrests

A court issues a bench warrant in Washington when a defendant in an ongoing criminal or civil case violates a court order. This warrant allows the police to apprehend a person and bring them to court. Courts may also issue bench warrants to arrest individuals who violate their pretrial release conditions. However, most bench warrants issued in the state are for persons who refused to attend their court hearings.

Anyone who carries out a Washington warrant search and finds a bench warrant can contact the court to determine the procedure for quashing it. A bail amount might be set in some cases, and paying it off can resolve the warrant. However, the defendant will still need to appear before the court on another scheduled date.

Failure to Appear in Washington: Rules and Consequences

According to RCW 10.79.040, a failure to appear in Washington occurs when a defendant released on bail or by a promise of appearance fails to attend a court hearing. As such, the court will issue a failure to appear warrant for the individual's arrest. A person who becomes the subject of this warrant is expected to file a motion to quash it within thirty days and face the consequences.

A person who missed court is guilty of a gross misdemeanor if the underlying charge is a felony. On the other hand, the failure to appear is a misdemeanor if the defendant was initially charged with a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor. Misdemeanors attract a year or less in jail and a fine that does not exceed $5,000.

How Long Do You Have to Stay in Jail for a Warrant for Missing Court in Washington?

The jail term that comes with a warrant for missing a court in Washington depends on the offense that mandated the warrant's issuance. Misdemeanors generally have lesser penalties than felonies. However, individuals who post bail after their apprehension and miss their court date will face a longer incarceration term.

If the defendant's original charge was a misdemeanor, the individual could receive a jail sentence of up to a year. In contrast, offenders charged with a Class B or C felony could end up in prison for up to 43 months. However, if the original charge was a Class A felony, missing a court date could result in up to 68 months of incarceration.

Failure to Pay in Washington: How It Works

In Washington, a failure to pay occurs when someone fails to pay a court fine or cost. Thus, the court can issue an arrest warrant to bring the person to court and enforce payment. A failure to pay warrant can also be released when an individual obligated to liquidate their assets to pay a fine fails to do so.

However, the court may not punish defendants guilty of failure to pay if it establishes that they lack the resources to make the payment. The court will only sanction a person who could pay but refused to comply.

To ascertain an individual's ability to pay, the court considers the following:

  • Earnings and assets of the defendant
  • The defendant's everyday costs and other financial obligations like child support and alimony
  • Efforts made by the defendant to pay
  • If the defendant is homeless or known to be mentally incapacitated

Failure to pay is punishable by imprisonment. An offender faces a day in jail for each $25 of the amount being owed. However, if the court imposes a fine or costs upon a misdemeanor conviction, the offender will spend thirty days in jail.

No-Knock Warrant in Washington: General Laws

A no-knock warrant gives law officers the authority to execute a search warrant without announcing their presence.

However, in Washington, there is a restriction on no-knock warrants. Per RCW 10.31.040, the police must declare their presence when executing a warrant to apprehend or search a person or search a place. They can only break a window or door to gain access to an individual's dwelling if they announce their presence and are refused admittance.

How to Perform a Federal Warrant Search

A federal warrant search can be performed through the Warrant Information System (WIN).

The U.S. Department of Justice manages WIN, which is used as a tracking system to check the status of all federal warrants while investigating federal fugitives. However, WIN is subject to certain access constraints. Hence, members of the general public are not allowed access to conduct a federal warrant search through WIN. Access to WIN is restricted to state officials, such as authorized law enforcement agency members, who require it to execute their official responsibilities.

Some third-party websites also provide access to searchable databases containing a list of public federal warrants. Interested persons can search for federal warrants on these databases using a subject’s name on these databases. Most of these websites are usually fee-based.

Does Washington DMV Check for Warrants?

No Washington state law requires the staff of the state Department of Licensing (DOL) staff to check for warrants. However, there is also no regulation against DOL staff running background checks on license applicants, which can relieve an individual’s warrants. It is also equally important to note that the state driver’s license database is linked to the state arrest warrant list.

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