My husband has an active warrant. How do we find out what it's for?
July 5, 2014 7:36 AM   Subscribe

My husband just got a permit denied for the reason that there was an active warrant against him. We have no idea what it can possibly be for and need to find out ASAP, as he's going up for a job that will be doing a background check. How can we best do this as fast as possible?

This is in Washington State. I tried calling the police department, but they said for warrants they would not be able to give any information over the phone and suggested him coming in with his ID - which I don't want him to do if we don't know what it's for. Is there any other way we can find this information out? Would an online background check pull it?

Please help, we are both freaking out pretty desperately.
posted by sockmeamadeus to Law & Government (21 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Get a lawyer to inquire.
posted by Mr. Justice at 7:49 AM on July 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

How to get a lawyer.
posted by Jahaza at 7:53 AM on July 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Any chance he missed a court date?
The warrant could be for a 'minor' issue...

Alternatively he could present himself at a station with ID to sort the matter out on his time. If he's to be interviewed in relation to a matter he has the right to contact a lawyer then.
posted by WayOutWest at 7:55 AM on July 5, 2014

When I worked at a sheriffs department in WA, a few years ago, the only way to find out what an active warrant was for, is exactly as you were told. It could be a case of mistaken identity or an old ticket. If you need/want to clear it up, he has to go in person. He could try going to a court house this week, at a small town, possibly they could run his name (while your husband is present). A larger city court will most likely refer you to the police.
posted by jennstra at 7:55 AM on July 5, 2014,-arrest-warrants,-and-criminal-history

That seems to have the some direction.

However, Snohomish County just has a list of names, ages, violation, bail amounts, etc. available online. Not sure about other counties (both of those links came up with a google search for "warrants washington state").

Is there a chance this is mistaken or stolen identity? If so, be absolutely sure you do everything with a lawyer present.
posted by AllieTessKipp at 7:56 AM on July 5, 2014

First, get a lawyer. Second, don't freak out. It could be something as simple as a missed speeding ticket. Once a friend forgot to pay a ticket and went overseas for the summer. When coming back he was informed there was a warrant out for him. He was able to get it straightened out with no long term strikes against him.
posted by beowulf573 at 7:57 AM on July 5, 2014

Response by poster: Total chance he missed a court date - he has been living out of state for a while and did not arrange for mail forwarding. However looking at the cases I can find by searching case files for his name seems to only show debt judgements. Can they arrest you for nonpayment of debt, debtors-prison style?
posted by sockmeamadeus at 8:06 AM on July 5, 2014

Obtain the services of a criminal defense attorney.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:12 AM on July 5, 2014

For assistance in finding a lawyer, I suggest you search on this page from the Washington State Bar Association.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:14 AM on July 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: To clarify: yes, we know that to deal with this we will most likely need an attorney, and I am in the process of looking for one. But my husband is in a panic and I'd like to address his anxiety before that given that it's 8am on the Saturday after the 4th and I probably will need to wait at least an hour or two before they are even answering their phones.
posted by sockmeamadeus at 8:15 AM on July 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

they said for warrants they would not be able to give any information over the phone and suggested him coming in with his ID

Do not do this unless he wants to sit in jail until Monday. (Didn't sound like you were going to, but just in case!). Lawyer.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 8:17 AM on July 5, 2014 [10 favorites]

If there's a warrant for his arrest and he presents himself to the police, they would be obligated to arrest him. Then he'd get booked, spend time in jail, etc.

Tell your husband to take deep breaths. He won't be arrested unless and until a police officer stops him and IDs him for some reason, which would most likely be a traffic stop. He can be certain this won't happen if he doesn't drive. Other than that, there's nothing he can do until you guys have an attorney and the attorney finds out more information.
posted by kavasa at 8:19 AM on July 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

If it was an active warrant, the cops would've been to your house already to arrest your husband. It's just a plan ol' warrant. I'd suggest he speak to a defense attorney who is used to dealing with such routine matters and follow his advice.
posted by michaelh at 8:39 AM on July 5, 2014

Best answer: I'm a criminal attorney. Respectfully—and I say this in the hope that it will ease your husband's state of mind a bit—you did a poor job of phrasing this AskMe. You explicitly asked for legal help. ("How can we best do this as fast as possible?") Nobody can give you this over the Internet. You should ignore anybody who tries.

Instead of asking for advice, you should have asked for anecdotes. "My husband just got a permit denied for the reason that there was an active warrant against him. We have no idea what it can possibly be for. Has this ever happened to you? If so, would you mind sharing how it ended? My husband is feeling anxious while we're waiting for a lawyer to call back." If you had asked that, I bet you would have gotten different replies. A lot of people have similar stories. Those people would not be able to tell you what you should or shouldn't do, but I bet they all would have ended their anecdotes with something like, "In the end, it turned out okay."

If you're on the phone looking for a lawyer now, then it sounds like you're on the right track. My advice would be to not freak out. That's not legal advice (I am not licensed in Washington, and I'm not your lawyer) but it does come from professional experience. It is not helpful to be "freaked out." If you're calm, you will better be able to answer questions and listen to your lawyer's advice. The job of a criminal attorney includes a lot of conversations not depicted on Law & Order, and one of them is indeed calming people who are freaked out. Everyone's job becomes easier if we can skip that step and move on to being productive.

I hope your husband is able to relax. This is his new priority, yes. But think about it like a backed-up septic tank or a leaking boiler. It is indeed both important and urgent, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's something to get emotionally worked-up about. You'll still be married on Monday, right? And Tuesday? You take my point.

I hope this is helpful. Again, I am not your lawyer and I'm not licensed in Washington. You need an attorney who is, ASAP. Good luck.
posted by cribcage at 8:48 AM on July 5, 2014 [38 favorites]

Best answer: I had a warrant once because I got called for jury duty in my home state while I was away at college in a different state and didn't know it. It was easily cleared up by proving I wasn't living in home state at the time. Since your husband was away for a while without having mail forwarded, this could easily be what happened.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:18 AM on July 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Maybe this is just an Idaho thing, but here in Boise, bail bond places advertise that they can check to see if you have any outstanding warrants. Maybe call a few of them? They also have the advantage that they're open on a Saturday afternoon.
posted by Hatashran at 10:01 AM on July 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

I would second cribcage's excellent advice. Also, nthing the suggestion from others that he doesn't turn himself in on the weekend. I write only to add that sometimes, even a lawyer can't find out what a warrant is for, and you really do have to go turn yourself in to police and then the'll tell you what's up with the warrant. The reason you don't do this on the weekend, and the reason that you want to already have a lawyer, is that the situation can be remedied much faster if your lawyer is already aware of what's going on, and if it's a weekday so the lawyer can do something in court or negotiate with prosecutors, etc. This isn't legal advice, and I don't practice law in Washington. Maybe all Washington lawyers have access to a database that tells you about all types of warrants. Sure doesn't happen that way in Oregon, though. :-(
posted by Happydaz at 10:28 AM on July 5, 2014

Back when I lived in Las Vegas, I once found out that I had a warrant out for my arrest because I'd forgotten to pay a traffic ticket. I went to a "ticket fixer" law firm and they were able to take care of everything for me very quickly and relatively cheaply (the amount they got my ticket and late fees reduced was more than the fee they charged for their services, IIRC).

If you think your circumstances might be similar then you might try a local "ticket fixer" law firm.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:45 AM on July 5, 2014

Have your husband call the court Monday morning and ask what the warrant's all about. They'll be able to tell him whether it's a missed court appearance or something more tricky. In my experience working in the courts, a "failure to appear" warrant can be cleared up/recalled simply by scheduling another court date ASAP and showing up. If it's an arrest warrant, he may have to turn himself in to be booked/released before they'll lift the warrant.

"However looking at the cases I can find by searching case files for his name seems to only show debt judgements. Can they arrest you for nonpayment of debt, debtors-prison style?"

I'm not sure about Washington, but in Oregon you can be arrested for non-payment of child support.
posted by frizzle at 11:33 AM on July 5, 2014

A warrant for failure to appear in a debt collection lawsuit is a real possibility.
posted by Emera Gratia at 12:16 PM on July 5, 2014

If it helps you calm down at all, it's entirely possible that the warrant is for somebody else. Criminal background checks come back with false results sometimes, and more often for people with common names who lived in densely populated areas. Government agencies are usually more careful, but not always.
posted by d. z. wang at 12:27 PM on July 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

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