An arrest warrant is a written document signed by a magistrate authorizing law enforcement officials to arrest the person named in the order. It contains the defendant's name, alleged offense, and county in which the warrant was issued.
If an arrest warrant has been issued in your name, police officers can take you into custody at any time, even if the interaction would not have normally resulted in an arrest.
When Is an Arrest Warrant Issued?
An arrest warrant may be issued when probable cause exists to believe that a crime has been committed or attempted and you are the one who committed it. Probable cause means that law enforcement officials had reasonable grounds to believe that a law was violated. In other words, based on the totality of the circumstances, any reasonable person would conclude that certain actions were criminal.
Before an arrest warrant is issued, the officer seeking the order must present to a magistrate credible evidence supporting their claim that you were involved in criminal conduct. If the magistrate is convinced that an offense occurred and you were the one who committed it, they will issue a warrant for your arrest.
The magistrate will only issue an arrest warrant in certain circumstances. These include:
- A law enforcement officer requested an order for an alleged misdemeanor or felony offense.
- Someone other than a law enforcement officer requested a warrant for a misdemeanor, and they present sufficient evidence demonstrating that a warrant is necessary or the magistrate believes a warrant is necessary to protect the alleged victim from future harm.
If someone other than a law enforcement officer seeks an arrest warrant for a felony offense, the magistrate is not likely to issue the order unless the alleged offense involved domestic abuse, sexual assault, or stalking and an arrest warrant is necessary to prevent any future harm coming to the alleged victim.
What Is a Criminal Summons?
In some cases, the magistrate may deny a request for an arrest warrant and issue a criminal summons instead. A criminal summons is an alternative to a warrant.
Like an arrest warrant, a criminal summons is a written notice indicating that you are suspected of committing a certain offense. But rather than allowing officers to take you into custody, a summons specifies a date and time that you must appear in court.
A law enforcement official will serve you with the summons, which you must sign. Signing is not an admission of guilt; it is simply acknowledging that you are aware of the summons and the penalties that can be imposed if you fail to comply with the order. If you refuse to sign, you will be taken before a magistrate. They will determine conditions for your release until the case for the alleged criminal offense is completed.
Failing to appear as indicated in a criminal summons carries harsh penalties. If you do not show up to court, you will be charged with a Class A misdemeanor under Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-16-609.
A conviction for failure to appear results in:
- Up to 11 months, 29 days of imprisonment and/or
- Up to $2,500 in fines
Note that the penalties are in addition to those imposed upon you should you be convicted of the underlying offense. Any term of incarceration for failing to appear after being served with a criminal summons must be served consecutively. This means that you must finish one term before the other begins. Even if you are not convicted of the underlying crime, you can still be convicted of failing to appear.
If you have been accused of a crime in or around Knoxville, it is crucial that you speak with an attorney. Even early in your case, consulting with a lawyer is vital to protecting your rights and building your defense.
At Eldridge & Blakney, our criminal defense attorneys have over 55 years of combined experience and are ready to deliver the legal representation you need. Schedule a free consultation by calling us at (865) 544-2010 or contacting us online today.