How do I unpickle my California arrest warrant?
June 20, 2013 6:40 AM   Subscribe

I (think I) have an outstanding arrest warrant in California. I'm in the UK. I don't have any references, dates or details.

I'm a UK citizen and some time ago, a year or two so - I hired a car and drove around California a bit. All was lovely until I was pulled over by a Highway Patrol officer somewhere in the valley for doing 50 in a 40 (I argued about the poor signage, but he was stern, grumpy and he had a big gun). He took my details from my UK driving licence and passport and issued me with a ticket.

I, sagely(!), ignored this ticket. Finished my trip, went home. Some time later, I received a demand for payment, or to show up at a courthouse somewhere in rural CA in the post to my UK address. It frothed quite a bit about this, and gave deadlines for response. I, sagely(!), ignored this too.

A month or so later, another arrived, this time a final demand, and said something about failure to comply meaning that a warrant would be issued for my arrest in the state of California. I ignored this also. This was maybe a year ago. Nothing followed. I know. I know.

I've been back to California several times since then (on work), and have been happily waved through the border with no issues, and had no problems renewing my ETSA. I'm led to believe the Highway Patrol doesn't share data with the border agencies - but I'd really like this whole cloud to go away. I'm happy to pay the fine, I just want it clearing off now, but I do not have these letters/demands any longer.

I don't have any dates, or references or anything - I disregarded the letters and they got thrown away. I tried to contact the California Highway Patrol and they weren't terrifically helpful, and said I'd have to contact the Court in the county I was ticketed in. However, I've no idea where that was.

My girlfriend is Jonesing to come with me to California later in the year, and wants us to hire a car and drive through the deserts and Yosemite and whatnot, and I'm worried this will be flagged up if I try and hire a car, and then, even if it doesn't, I might get pulled over again and promptly thrown in jail!

How do I unpickle this, MeFi?
posted by metaxa to Law & Government (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You say you were pulled over in the "Valley". Which one. San Fernando, San Juaquin? If you know where, you'll be able to get to the county courthouse (perhaps even on-line) and pay the fine.

It's really simple. Do you remember the freeway or the city you were in? You can find the name of the county and then go to the courthouse website. It's possible you can clear it up on line! How convenient.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:52 AM on June 20, 2013

"Somwhere in the valley" + "I don't have any dates or references or anything" = figure it out, immediately. Get out Google maps, stop stalling, and start looking up the county website that could even be in the realm of possibility. You said you hired a car, start looking at receipts to narrow down the timeframe too.

Take a look at the following, as these will be your best bets. Some cities in the Valley are part of Los Angeles county. And FYI, be prepared to pay the fee that you owe the jurisdiction. Things like this don't just "go away."

1. Los Angeles Superior Court
2. Ventura County Superior Court
posted by chloe.gelsomino at 6:54 AM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

The warrant that was issued is probably a minor warrant. (I forget the actual name.) Meaning nobody is *looking* for you, the warrant isn't being pushed to DHS or the FBI or anything like that. Just that when an officer in California (or maybe even just that county) looks up your name, there will be a "arrest this guy and remand to XYZ county" alert.

So you are probably fine as long as you aren't driving and don't get pulled over. But if you do, it's going to be a long 24 hours.

What your first step will have to be is to determine what county the infraction occurred in. After that, you need to contact them (probably the clerk of the circuit court, which is different from the county clerk) and see what you need to do. You might be well served to hire a lawyer, because at some point, someone is going to have to go in front of a judge and get the case adjudicated.

If you really, really can't figure out which county it happened in, the State of California has some version of a Bureau of Identification, through which criminal records are processed. The way it works in my state is that you request a form, fill it out, write them a check for $15, and they will send you whatever criminal records they have on you. That should specify the county in which the infraction occurred.
posted by gjc at 7:04 AM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's tedious, but pretty easy, to recreate the route you took. Especially if you have any memories, photos, and/or Google maps. I do this all the time, though for different reasons. Just figure out every way you might have gone, and check with all possible counties. (If worst comes to worst, CA only has 58 of them!) The rental car company might have records of the dates too, if you can't find that through CC statements or whatever.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 7:06 AM on June 20, 2013

As for renting a car and driving around California with your girlfriend: don't. She can rent the car, and she can do all the driving throughout your visit.

At the very least, don't rent a car under your name until after you have this totally cleared up, and even then carry a copy with you --- just in case the rental agency wants proof.
posted by easily confused at 7:08 AM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Not only is the warrant, as gjc notes, an "arrest this guy and remand" warrant, but if your ID was plugged into a law-enforcement in most other parts of the US, including probably most of California, someone would look at what your crime was and what it'll cost their own county to transport you to XYZ county, and ignore it.
posted by Sunburnt at 7:13 AM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: From some deep thinking and some Google maps-ing, I think I can narrow it down to Kern, Kings, San Luis Obispo, Monterey, Fresno or Tulare counties. I'm sure I can dig out the hire reservation from my email, too. I guess it's a matter of working through each county's court phone numbers and websites.

posted by metaxa at 7:26 AM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

All the advice above is good, however, I would follow it as a last resort.

Since you're a UK citizen, why not call the UK consulate in Los Angeles and ask them how best to proceed? You're likely not the first UK citizen to have been given a ticket while driving in California.
posted by dfriedman at 7:44 AM on June 20, 2013 [8 favorites]

This site might help you. Or Google to find the arrest warrant site for each of those counties.
posted by Dansaman at 8:13 AM on June 20, 2013

Courts tend to get really grumpy about being ignored, and they also don't like anyone acting like the court's power should be limited by pesky things like international boundaries or the 13 hour flight you'd have to take to make an appearance. Ignoring demands in the mail was unwise if you ever want to return to California. As someone suggested above, hiring a lawyer who deals with traffic citations will be a good idea; at the very least this person could help you figure out what will happen when you eventually appear in court to clear the warrant, and how much of a fine you'll have to cough up as penance for ignoring the first few letters they sent you.
posted by 1adam12 at 9:45 AM on June 20, 2013

If you have some spare cash, I'd hire a California lawyer to take care of it for you. It probably won't be that expensive since it's a relatively simple and common situation.
posted by insectosaurus at 10:12 AM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I know in my state there is a database you can put your name in and it will show any judgments against you - which can include tickets that have gone to court. You can also search for warrants. I don't know if CA has something like this, but it seems likely.

And yes, the warrant is the kind where they don't actively look for you, but will pick you up if they happen to stop you and run your name. Here in WI they don't even cross county lines, if I have a warrant here, and get pulled over the next county over, it won't even show up for them/they won't do anything about it. So until you do get this sorted out, there's not too much to worry about.

If you can't track down anything online I think your best bet is to retrace your trip and figure out exactly where you were, then call the local PD. And a small town PD is likely to be a lot nicer than say LAPD, you might even find a nice person willing to give you more helpful info even if you don't hit the right county/city.
posted by catatethebird at 11:39 AM on June 20, 2013

Why don't you start here, and see if you can track your ticket down by County and Drivers License Number?
All the counties you mention are part of this, but your ticket may have moved to a stage where it can't be dealt with online. Even if it can't, the record may show for you to figure out where it's at. You might get lucky with a half hours' work or so.
posted by blue_wardrobe at 3:19 PM on June 20, 2013

The link to Tulare on the page I referenced, is dead. Current active link here.
posted by blue_wardrobe at 3:29 PM on June 20, 2013

If you visit again, and a California state or municipal police officer runs your name, you will be arrested, and it will be an enormous hassle. You can hire a lawyer, or contact the California State Police, who should be able to find the outstanding warrant.
posted by theora55 at 8:46 PM on June 20, 2013

I might get pulled over again and promptly thrown in jail!

You don't have to get pulled over for this to happen, the warrant will show up if they ask for your ID and check it against their database in CA. It's not unusual for passengers to be asked for ID when a driver is pulled over, or for CA police to check ID when you aren't in a vehicle.

If this happens on a Friday afternoon, you might not get out of jail until Monday.

You should carry proof that the ticket has been paid with you.
posted by yohko at 12:18 AM on June 21, 2013

Also, don't carry anything on your person or in your vehicle that will cause any additional trouble if you are searched.
posted by yohko at 12:19 AM on June 21, 2013

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