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Pennsylvania Warrant Records

What is a Warrant in Pennsylvania?

A Pennsylvania warrant is issued by a judge to allow law enforcement to take a particular action that would otherwise be illegal. Typically, warrants are used to arrest or search someone because of a criminal investigation or to make a person adhere to a court order. As such, the state courts can issue several kinds of warrants, including an arrest warrant, search warrant, bench warrant, failure to pay warrant, and more. Each kind serves a different judicial purpose.

However, before a Pennsylvania judge can release any warrant, the officer requiring the writ must show probable cause—else the warrant, and any execution of it, will be unlawful. Probable cause means that the officer provides reasons for the arrest, seizure, or search to a judge (usually by a written affidavit), and the judicial officer determines that it is sufficient to allow the requested action. Nevertheless, a warrant can also be issued upon indictment by a grand jury or by a judge to bring a person to court to explain their actions (e.g., skipping a court date, failing to pay child support, or violating a probation order).

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

Finding out about a warrant in Pennsylvania is easy. Because the police will not always inform a person of the warrant, the courts and local law enforcement agencies provide several means for residents to conduct Pennsylvania warrant searches on their own.

The Pennsylvania State Police offers PATCH, which stands for Pennsylvania Access to Criminal History. Individuals can obtain criminal history information on themselves or others from this repository, but they must pay a non-refundable fee per request. It costs $22 to use the online PATCH database, $20 for mail requests, and $5 for a notarized copy. This fee is waived if the searcher is a volunteer, but the individual cannot get a notarized copy.

Alternatively, an interested party looking for generic warrant information can visit a county sheriff's department to view the most wanted list of that locality. This list will typically display a person's full name, offense, last known address, warrant number, and issuing date. Sometimes, it may be possible to view warrant information on a sheriff's website. For instance, Montgomery County's sheriff's office displays active bench warrants on their website.

On the other hand, anyone who wants to conduct a free Pennsylvania warrant search without calling or visiting a law enforcement agency may use the Pennsylvania Judiciary Web Portal. This repository offers statewide warrant searches. However, the searcher must create an account to use the service. Persons without internet access can also place a call to a local court clerk's office to find outstanding warrants. Checking an official county's website may also yield warrant information, e.gCentre County's website displays a list of persons who have outstanding bench warrants for the nonpayment of support.

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 Pennsylvania?

In Pennsylvania, most warrants do not have expiration dates. Typically, a warrant will remain outstanding until the subject surrenders, is arrested by the police, passes away, or a judge recalls it. As these writs do not go away on their own, a person can only go so far as to avoid them. For one, the existence of the warrant allows the police to arrest or detain a person at any time and place, whether it is convenient for the subject of the warrant or not. Secondly, intentionally avoiding a warrant can lead to severe penalties from the law, one being that a person can lose their freedom for a while.

Moreover, warrants are public information. This means that a quick warrant search or request for a person's criminal record will produce all lingering warrants against the person, whether the concerned individual knows about them or not. This can create legal and financial issues in one's life. Therefore, upon discovering any active warrant, it is best to hire counsel and surrender willingly to the court or police for one's peace of mind. This shows cooperation with the law and legal procedures. As such, the court may be more tolerant of the individual.

What is a Pennsylvania Search Warrant?

Under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I § 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, residents of the Commonwealth are safe from unreasonable governmental searches and seizures. As a result, no citizen of the country can be searched or have their things seized by the police or other government authority without reason.

Generally, a Pennsylvania search warrant allows the police to enter a private residence or property and seize evidence without requiring a person's consent. However, this warrant cannot be released unless the requesting officer demonstrates reasonable cause to a judge or magistrate, i.e., they will find evidence of a crime by searching the property. Without the warrant, any government official who searched and seized a person's property as proof of a crime can have that evidence thrown out (rejected) by the court in a criminal proceeding.

Still, there are situations where a warrantless search will not result in a suppression of evidence, including when:

  • The search was conducted with an individual's consent.
  • The search was necessary because of an emergency, e.g., a close pursuit.
  • The search occured due to an arrest.
  • The search was carried out because a crime occured in plain view, hearing, or sight of a law enforcement officer, except the officer's observation occurred in an area where they had no reason to be.
  • Where the object of the search was a vehicle.

Other than the basic search warrants, the courts can also issue anticipatory search warrants—that sometime in the future, evidence will be found at a certain place. (See Commonwealth v. Glass, 754 A.2d 655 (Pa. 2000) and 234 Pa. Code Rule 203(F))

Typically, Pennsylvania search warrants are served between 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Any performance between 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. is illegal unless authorized by a judge who determined that the probable cause shown for a nighttime search was sufficient. Also, these warrants expire two days from issuance (234 Pa. Code Rule 205), except for anticipatory search warrants that do not expire until the future event occurs.

What Can Make a Pennsylvania Search Warrant Invalid?

According to Title 234, Rule 205(A) of the Pennsylvania Code, a search warrant must be signed by a judicial officer and must:

  • Bear the issuing date and time.
  • Identify the property to be seized.
  • Name/describe the person or place to be searched.
  • Specify the deadline for execution. (Typically two days, except when the warrant was issued for a future event.)
  • An order that the warrant be executed during the day (6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.) unless otherwise permitted.
  • State the title of the judicial officer to whom the warrant should be returned.
  • Certify that the warrant was issued because probable cause was found in the written affidavit for the warrant.
  • When necessary, the warrant will also certify that the affidavit has been sealed for a good cause per Rule 211 and indicate the period that the affidavit will remain sealed.

Without these components, the warrant can be challenged on its merits in a court of law. If the court discovers that the warrant is invalid, any evidence obtained through the warrant becomes subject to the "exclusionary rule." That is, the evidence will be inadmissible in a criminal proceeding—which often leads to a suspect's exoneration.

What is an Arrest Warrant in Pennsylvania?

In Pennsylvania, an arrest warrant can be issued after a criminal complaint or grand jury indictment. Either way, there must be probable cause before a judge or magistrate can release this warrant type. This means that the judge must agree with the affiant's justification for the warrant, i.e., an individual allegedly violated the state's penal code and, as such, should be prosecuted in a criminal court. Title 234, Chapter 5, PART B(3) of the Pennsylvania Code directs the issuance and execution of these warrants within the Commonwealth.

Pennsylvania arrest warrants are executable anytime and anywhere, and remain active until a person's arrest or surrender. Therefore, anyone who conducts a warrant search and finds such writ, or learns about it somehow, should try to quash it immediately to avoid a future arrest attempt. Clearing this warrant is also necessary because it will show up on a person's criminal record and affect employment, housing, immigration opportunities.

Since the arrest can often lead to a criminal proceeding, it is advisable to promptly hire a criminal defense lawyer, not just for help in vacating the warrant but also in defending the criminal charge(s).

What is a Child Support Arrest Warrant in Pennsylvania?

A child support arrest warrant allows the police to detain a delinquent payor (parent in default of child support payments) and bring them to court. Unlike the generic arrest warrants, a child support arrest warrant is often civil, as its purpose is to compel a noncustodial parent to attend a non-support hearing and pay the past-due amount. Hence, any jail sentence ordered is not meant as punishment but to force the parent to perform their duty to support.

Ordinarily, the court will not impose a legal penalty on the arrested individual unless the default was intentional, or so severe that federal or state prosecutors became involved. When an obligor is found in willful contempt of the court (i.e., the parent purposefully failed to comply with the support order), the party may incur the following penalties, according to 23 Pa.C.S. § 4345:

  • Imprisonment, no more than six months.
  • A fine, no more than $1,000.
  • Probation for up to a year.

Furthermore, per 23 Pa.C.S. § 4354, the parent can be charged with a summary offense for willful nonsupport, or a third-degree misdemeanor if the parent fled to another state to avoid the support order and any of the following apply:

  • It is a second or subsequent offense, or
  • The parent owes support equal to or greater than 12 months of the monthly support obligation.

What is a Pennsylvania Bench Warrant?

A Pennsylvania bench warrant is a formal directive to apprehend a person who disregarded a court order. This warrant is issued by a judge (or district magistrate), and typically because someone failed to appear for a court hearing, failed to pay a court fine, cost, or restitution, or went against a court order (e.g., probation violation).

In the Commonwealth, the procedures for the release and execution of bench warrants are covered by Title 234, Chapter 1, Part E of the Pennsylvania Code. Per Rule 150 (A)(5)(b) of this chapter, a bench warrant can expire in Pennsylvania if its hearing is not held within 72 hours of an individual's detainment, or the close of the next working day if the 72 hour-deadline expires on a non-working day. However, if the bench warrant was issued against a minor witness (witness under 18 years of age), this time limit is 24 hours (Rule 150 (C)(2)).

Sometimes, residents will learn of bench warrants after being notified by the court by mail. However, people can still perform warrant searches occasionally using the methods described above.

In Pennsylvania, What is Failure to Appear?

Anyone given a court hearing date in Pennsylvania is required to show up at the applicable court, as failing or refusing to do so can lead to the person's arrest. The courts can also impose penalties if the individual is a defendant in a criminal case or the nonappearance was willful.

According to 231 Pa. Code Rule 1910.13-1 and 237 Pa. Code Rule 140, a judge may issue a bench warrant for a Failure to Appear (FTA) if it finds that the accused had sufficient notice of the hearing and was still absent in court on the scheduled hearing date. With this warrant, the police can arrest the named individual at any time and take them to court.

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

When an individual misses a mandatory court appearance in Pennsylvania, the court can issue a bench warrant for their arrest. This means that the police can now arrest them anywhere, even at a simple traffic stop.

Anyone arrested on a bench warrant in Pennsylvania can spend up to 72 hours (three days) in jail before the court attends to their matter. After this hearing, the person may be released (with/without bail) or sentenced to jail, depending on the default. For example, if an obligor (parent liable for child support payments) misses court intentionally, the court can find them in contempt and assess a jail sentence of up to six months (23 Pa.C.S. § 4344).

In Pennsylvania, What is Failure to Pay?

When a person defaults on a court-ordered payment in Pennsylvania, the courts can release a warrant for the person's arrest. Failures to pay (FTPs) can also result in additional fines, property liens, driver's license suspensions, and more. Also, if the failure to pay was willful, the defaulting party can lose their freedom for up to six months.

What is a No-Knock Warrant in Pennsylvania?

Typically, with search warrants and per the Fourth Amendment, law enforcement officers must notify residents of their presence before intruding. However, there are concessions to this law, one being the "no-knock" warrant.

A no-knock warrant is a kind of search warrant that directs police officers to enter someone's home without first announcing themselves or their purpose. Like other warrants, there must be a good reason for a judge or magistrate to issue a no-knock warrant. The generally acceptable grounds are as follows:

  • When the notification will lead to the destruction of evidence, compromise an officer's or individual's safety, or cause a suspect to flee.

However, Pennsylvania does not explicitly permit no-knock warrants. Indeed, no judicial officer can issue a search warrant that opposes 234 Pa. Code Rule 207, the Commonwealth's "knock and announce rule."

Under Rule 207, the police must notify residents of their intrusion and, after such notice, wait a reasonable time for a response. The police can only enter forcibly in exigent circumstances or if the officer is not admitted after a reasonable period. (Also, see superior court case: Commonwealth v. Grubb, 407 Pa. Superior Ct. 78, 595 A.2d 133 (1991).)