Federal Warrant Search: Lookup Guide for All 50 States (The Bad News)
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With a federal warrant search, the process is unique for each of the 50 states, but there’s also some bad news: many federal warrants won’t show up on a background check. Knowing when warrants will show up, and how to find them can be beneficial for both individuals and professionals.
While this can be an advantage for those searching for employment, it can also be bad news because it means the warrant can go unnoticed until it’s too late. A surprise warrant can lead to a surprise arrest, which is an uncomfortable event for you and anyone else involved.
Fortunately, there are ways to attempt to find a federal warrant before your arrest. Step one is to conduct a pre-check that will outline possible outstanding records. This is recommended because it can be done quickly, in just minutes, and expose what warrants may be currently active.
Next, the most reliable method involves searching the U.S. Marshals Warrant Information System (WIN).
The bad news about the WIN system is that it isn’t available to the public. Unless you have clearance to use the platform, you won’t be able to utilize this system to search for any federal warrants.
So what does that leave? You’ll have to test your luck by searching using a background check or an online record search provided by your state, and this process isn’t completely reliable. Many states limit the type of warrants that will show up on background checks and their online search.
However, this look up guide provides options for potentially finding an active federal warrant within each of the 50 states, as well as the bad news that this process involves.
What Is a Federal Warrant?
A federal warrant is a warrant issued for an arrest as it relates to a federal crime. The warrant can be issued after a federal officer goes before a judge with evidence that shows the person in question has been involved with or has committed the federal crime.
What counts as a federal crime? Federal crimes that would lead to a federal warrant include:
- An immigration violation
- Tax violations
- A crime where the person crossed state lines
- A crime committed in a national park
- A crime against a federal officer
- A crime committed by a federal officer
- A violation related to customs or international drug trafficking
Any evidence provided by the officer needs to be obtained legally, usually with a corresponding search warrant. Once a federal warrant has been approved by a judge and issued, law enforcement has the ability to arrest the person for whom the warrant has been issued.
A federal warrant will contain identifying information such as your full name, your description, and the crime you allegedly committed. It will not be valid unless it has the ruling judge’s signature.5
Are There Different Types of Federal Warrants?
There are many different types of federal warrants. Some of the most common warrants include search warrants, tax warrants, arrest warrants, and bench warrants.2
As you might be able to guess, a search warrant is related to the ability of law enforcement to search a person or property for evidence related to a crime. A bench warrant is one that is typically issued as a result of the accused not following the protocols of court, and is therefore issued by the ‘bench.’
An arrest warrant is one that is issued to allow the arrest of the accused. A tax warrant is issued when you commit a tax related offense, like not paying your taxes.
The federal warrant searches covered in this article will mostly relate to federal arrest and bench warrants.
What is an Outstanding Federal Warrant?
An outstanding warrant really is no different from other warrants, and the same is true for an outstanding federal warrant. It simply means that the warrant for an arrest has been issued sometime in the past, but the warrant has not been executed yet. Outstanding warrants can be held for days, weeks, months and in some rare cases, years.
It simply means that the person named in the warrant hasn’t been processed with an arrest.
What Is a Federal Warrant Search?
When you conduct a federal warrant search, you are searching records to determine if you have an active federal warrant out for your arrest. Each of the 50 states offer a way to conduct a federal warrant search, although not all searches will guarantee that an active warrant will be found.
More bad news is that some states limit the type of information that is returned on their background checks.
The easiest and most accurate way to conduct a federal warrant search is to contact the federal office or get in touch with a federal attorney. A federal attorney will have procedures in place that can be much more reliable and accurate than a traditional online search.
Finding Arrest Records Through a Federal Warrant Search: The Bad News
As mentioned above, there is some bad news when searching arrest records in a federal warrant search. Just because you have a federal warrant does not mean that it will show up on every background check.
Many federal warrants require specific searches using specific tools to locate them, some of which are not available to the public. Plus, a warrant search completed through an online tool, such as one provided by a state website, may not show an active warrant. These systems usually are not updated regularly, which means that a newer warrant may not populate.
Some states also have very specific rules as to what type of warrants are considered public. Criminal warrants, for example, are not public in every state until they are acted upon by a law enforcement office. This means that if you have a criminal warrant out for your arrest, it might not appear on a background check or public record search.
While for many people this piece of information is bad news, it might also be good news in particular circumstances. For those in the process of finding a new job using a background check, the fact that a warrant doesn’t show will probably be a benefit.
Another method for finding a federal warrant search involves contacting a law enforcement office. If you don’t want to visit your local office, you can also contact a federal office. The federal departments may have access to the WIN system, which provides accurate information. While this method can almost always guarantee an accurate result, it will likely lead to your immediate arrest.
If you don’t want to end up with a surprise arrest, you can contact a federal attorney. Federal attorneys can work with you to determine the type of warrant out for your arrest and the best way to handle it.
What is a Warrant Inquiry (Warrant Check)?
A warrant inquiry, or warrant check, is when a member of the public uses a search tool to find if there is a warrant out for their arrest. This is usually done if you think that you may be a suspect in a crime.
A warrant inquiry is another term for a federal warrant search. Most states offer county specific tools that will allow you to complete a warrant inquiry online. For example, Mecklenburg County in North Carolina offers an easy to use online warrant inquiry system. The unique thing about an online warrant inquiry is that you can search for any name within the system. If there is a public warrant or public record available, it will be returned within the search.
How Do a Federal Bench Warrant Search and Federal Background Check Relate To Each Other?
There are many different types of background checks. A federal background check is a fingerprint based search that will return any federal arrest records or convictions. A federal bench warrant search and a federal background check are related in the sense that a federal bench warrant will likely be returned on a federal background check.
While they are related, how to get a federal background check and a how to search for a federal bench warrant search differ. A federal bench warrant is a warrant that is usually issued as a result of you not following the rules of the court.
For example, a bench warrant can be issued if you don’t show up to a scheduled court date or forget to pay a fine. When a law enforcement officer acts on a bench warrant, it allows them to take you into custody and appear in front of the judge who issued the warrant.
Will a Level 1 Background Check Show a Federal Government Warrant Search?
It might be tempting to assume that a level 1 background check will show a federal government warrant. Unfortunately, a level 1 background check will likely not show a federal government warrant search.
Level 1 background checks use your name, a date of birth search and your address to look through local city, county, and state records. These background checks will only search through a single state’s databases and do not offer federal or national records. Information returned includes local criminal history, employment history verification, and address information. Federal warrants are not typically returned on a Level 1 background check.
The only exception to this rule is if the federal warrant has been issued for a serious crime, such as kidnapping or murder.
If you are concerned about having a federal warrant out for your arrest, you should consider having an FBI background check or a federal background check completed. Both of these options utilize a fingerprint check method to run your records through either the FBI’s system or the federal system. Information returned from a federal background check will only include federal crimes.
What Kinds of Warrants Will Show Up?
If you have an arrest warrant for your local or state police department, these may show up on a level 1 background check.
But, not all warrants may appear, since the state systems may not be updated regularly. Some states also have restrictions on the type of warrants they deem to be public. For example, in California criminal warrants are not public until the suspect has been arrested. This means that there is a higher chance that criminal arrest warrants will not show up on background checks.
However, if you have a warrant out for a serious crime (like murder) from another state, it may appear on a level 1 background check or another non-federal background check.
Is There a Background Check that Will Show a Federal Warrant?
What shows up on a background check will depend on what type of background check is being performed. A level 1 background check only returns information from a local or state. This means that a federal warrant will likely not show up.
But what about other background check types such as an FBI check, federal background check, or a level 2 background check?
Is an FBI Warrant Search the Same as a Level 2 Background Check?
An FBI Warrant Search is not the same as a Level 2 Background Check. A Level 2 background check uses your name, social security number, and fingerprints to search through state and national records. This type of background check does not have access to the system used by the FBI.
An FBI warrant search uses the system kept up to date by the FBI to determine if you have any open warrants or criminal records. An FBI warrant search can only be conducted through the FBI or an approved Channeler. An approved Channeler is essentially a third party that is authorized by the FBI to request a background check on your behalf.
The only similarity between the two types of searches is the sense that the check cannot be conducted without the signature of the person who is being searched. Visit the FBI’s website to learn more about how to apply for an FBI background check, and to learn how far back does an FBI background check go.
How Is the U.S. Marshals Warrant Information System (WIN) Used?
The U.S. Marshals Warrant Information System (WIN) is used to track all federal warrants. It compiles records from state and national levels, and includes criminal records related to outstanding warrants.1
Information found in the WIN system is usually provided by state, federal, and foreign agencies. The purpose of the system is to provide a central starting point to help officers locate those with outstanding warrants. The WIN system can only be accessed by officials with privileges, so it cannot be used by the public.
Is it the Same as a Federal Marshal Warrant Search?
Ths U.S. Marshal Warrant Information System is not the same thing as a Federal Marshal Warrant Search. As we touched on above, the WIN system is a specific system that is only available to a select number of individuals with a specific security clearance within the U.S. Marshall department.
A Federal Marshal Warrant search involves a federal warrant search issued by a federal department.
Can Anyone Conduct a Federal Search Warrant Lookup?
Anyone has access to free warrant lookups using online services, but a true federal or Level 2 background check requires fingerprints and a signature from the person whose name is being searched.
What’s a Federal Warrant Search List?
A federal warrant search list is a list that provides information about a federal warrant. You can obtain a federal warrant search list by using an online search tool or looking on a state’s website.
A federal warrant search list does not always provide every search warrant record. If you are searching a federal warrant search list for your name and you don’t find it, this does not mean that you don’t have a federal warrant. If you suspect that there may be a federal warrant out for your arrest, you should contact an attorney to be sure.
What’s a Bench Warrant Lookup?
A bench warrant lookup will check to see if you have any active bench warrants out against your name. A bench warrant is usually issued by a judge who has determined that you didn’t follow the court rules. This typically happens if you don’t show up on your court date or forget to pay a fine associated with a court ruling.
A bench warrant, like an arrest warrant, gives the police authority to arrest you and bring you to court.
How to Check If I Have a Warrant and How to Find Out If I Have a Warrant
Unfortunately, many people find out about a federal warrant when the FBI comes knocking on the door. If you think there’s a possibility you might be suspected in a federal crime, the best thing to do is try to track down the warrant.
It is much easier to handle a federal warrant when you aren’t surprised. The best way to search for a warrant in your name is to utilize the tools provided by your state. Keep in mind that the warrant may not be active if it was processed within the last few days. Oftentimes, the systems are not updated daily and can take time to show a new, active arrest warrant.
Federal Warrant Search by State
Each state has a unique process for searching for federal warrants and other criminal records. Along with a unique process, many states also offer their own websites. There are some states that don’t offer online searches but information as to how to obtain records another way.
Those states that do offer online search platforms do not always update them regularly. If an arrest warrant is not available to the public, it will not be featured on the website. Keep in mind that this means not all warrants will be returned when using the options or links below.
The link for each state is included below:
FAQ’s About Doing a Warrant Check and Federal Warrant Search
Warrant checks and federal warrant searches often bring up many frequently asked questions. Because there are many different types of federal warrants, knowing how to distinguish the difference can be difficult. Many people also wonder about different state laws.
Is There a Way to Get a Free Federal Warrant Search?
You can utilize the free tools provided by your state to determine if you have a federal warrant. Unfortunately, the bad news is that not all warrants will show up on these searches.
Some states limit the type of warrant that shows up within these searches. Civil warrants or bench warrants will usually show up in a free warrant search, while criminal warrants can be restricted. If you are concerned about a federal warrant in your name but haven’t been able to locate any records using these search tools, you should consider hiring an attorney.
Is a Federal Tax Warrant Search the Same as a Federal Government Warrant Search?
A federal warrant for a tax related crime is not the same as a general federal warrant. However, conducting a federal government warrant search will likely turn up results showing a federal tax warrant. In fact, most tax warrants are considered public records so they will show up on most background checks that search federal and national records.
To answer this question definitively, a federal tax warrant search is not the same as a federal government warrant search. However, the two are related as a federal government warrant search will likely return any results for a federal tax warrant.
Are the Laws for California Active Warrants Search Different?
In California, an arrest warrant can be issued by a judge or through an indictment at a grand jury. Once the warrant is issued, law enforcement has the right to arrest you.
One important thing to know is that the laws in California say that the arresting officer does not need to have a copy of the warrant when arresting you. When searching for an active warrant in California, you will probably be disappointed to learn that active warrants are not public records. In fact, warrants in California do not become public until the person in question has been arrested or settled the warrant.
Should I Hire a Federal Defense Attorney?
If you think that you may have a federal warrant out for your arrest or find a warrant during your search, it’s usually best to hire a federal defense attorney. Not all federal arrest warrants are accessible to the public, so having an attorney can help you be proactive.
Federal defense attorneys will have more insight into your situation and may be able to locate information that is not available to the public. Your attorney will also be able to get you in front of a judge sooner rather than later, avoiding the potential for you being arrested without the option of posting bail.3
How Do I Find a Federal Defense Attorney?
If you decide to hire a federal defense attorney, there are several things that you should consider before choosing which one to hire. Double check their credentials to ensure that they have the correct education to help you. It’s also important that you check their experience to make sure that they have helped other clients with similar federal warrants. While it can be tempting to hire an attorney who says things that make you feel guaranteed to get a good result, you want to make sure that you choose one who is honest with you. Having an idea of a realistic outcome will serve you better than an attorney only searching for your business.4
Finding a federal warrant through a search on your own may prove more difficult than you would think. With the potential for records to not be updated, and a lack of consistency over what type of records are public, it would be very easy for you to miss a federal warrant out for your arrest.
And while you would think that running a federal background check on yourself would be the answer to your problem, certain types of warrants won’t be shown (such as criminal warrants). Despite this bad news, it can still be worth it to run a background check on yourself. There is a chance that any warrants out for your arrest will appear, and you will also have an opportunity to see what other information is out there. This can ensure that you are prepared, should you need to search for a new job , apply for adoption or look for government housing.
If you are concerned that you have a federal warrant out for your arrest but haven’t been able to locate it on a background check, the best option is to contact the agency directly or get in touch with a federal attorney.
Keep in mind that reaching out to the agency could lead to your immediate arrest. If you’re concerned about a surprise arrest, it would be the best option for you to contact a federal attorney directly. Attorneys have the ability to search more detailed records and can assist you in handling any federal warrant search matter, assuming they have the correct experience and credentials.
1U.S. Marshals Service. n.d. Freedom of Information/Privacy Act, 18 October 2021. Web. <https://www.usmarshals.gov/readingroom/warran.html>
2Criminal Watch Dog, n.d., Will a Warrant Show Up on a Background Check. 19 October 2021. Web. <https://www.criminalwatchdog.com/faq/do-warrants-show-on-background-check>
3Robert M. Helfend. N.d. Federal Arrest Warrants – What You Need to Know. 19 October 2021. Web. <https://www.robertmhelfend.com/federal-defense/arrest-warrants/>
4Federal Criminal Defense. N.d. How to Hire a Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer. 20 October 2021. Web. <https://federalcriminaldefense.pro/federal-crimes/hire-federal-lawyer/>
5NH Law. n.d. Federal Arrest Warrants. 19 October 2021. Web. <https://nhassanlaw.com/criminal-defense/federal-arrest-warrants/>