By H. Michael Steinberg Colorado Criminal Defense Lawyer
You’ve Just Learned About a Warrant Issued for Your Arrest – What Are Your Options?
The call may come from the officer investigating your case, or it may be a letter from the court informing you that there is a warrant issued for your arrest and you are ordered to turn yourself in.
What are your options?
If you are aware of the incident that is the reason you believe you are being charged with the commission of certain crimes but you are shocked, based on your understanding of the incident, that the police or the district attorney would ever file charges, you must still face the reality of the warrant. You know that you are innocent, but that does not change your options in regards to the existence of the arrest warrant.
While it is possible that the arrest warrant was issued as a result of a mistaken identity, (although that is an exceedingly rare event), the bottom line is this: if there is an arrest warrant for you, properly issued by a judge, even if you are innocent, you must address or “take care of ” the warrant.
Stated differently, if you are wanted and an arrest warrant has, in fact, been issued, you must surrender, regardless of guilt. An arrest warrant is sometimes viewed by the public as proof that someone is probably guilty.
This is simply not true.
Arrest warrants are allegations made by law enforcement that are often one-sided and amount to the minimum standard of proof, probable cause, and not the much higher burden of proof at trial of beyond a reasonable doubt. Rest assured that you are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, and the charges against you must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
When a Colorado judge issues an arrest warrant, it means that law enforcement is authorized – in fact, instructed – to arrest an individual who is only suspected of committing a crime, there need only be some evidence that supports the defendant’s involvement in a crime that was committed.
After surrendering on the warrant, and once out on bond, you will have your opportunity to vigorously defend the charges – you will have your day in court.
Acting With Wisdom Now Will Bear Fruit Later
How you react to learning about an arrest warrant can either make a bad situation worse, or conversely, help to place you in the best possible position to defend yourself later in your case.
This article addresses some of the issues you must address if you find yourself in this predicament.
Having a warrant issued for your arrest can be an incredibly confusing and exceptionally frightening situation. Many people, due to a lack of knowledge of how the process works, let their emotions overwhelm them, causing them to take ill-advised actions in response to discovering the warrant.
Lawyers understand that being falsely accused of a crime that one did not commit is one thing, but the fear, humiliation, and the terror of going through the criminal system’s arrest procedure is very real and must be well understood and addressed clearly and substantively.
There is no equal to the kind of powerlessness and fear generated by the criminal justice system, especially because it is foreign to most people. Most view the criminal justice system as broken, and therefore a threat to them. The court system has the power to reach into people’s lives and remove them from society with very little in the way of evidence. That kind of powerlessness compels many to refuse to “go down without a fight.”
This idea sometimes takes hold in the infancy of a criminal case – at the stage an arrest warrant is issued. Unfortunately, this is a very unwise approach. The feeling of “taking control” which underlies the sentiment of, “catch me if you can” is a short term gambit and will actually end up hurting your case in the long term.
While being the subject of a police investigation is a terrifying moment and often leads to substantial stress and even panic, it is now that you will need to make the best decisions with your lawyer.
Knowledge is Power – First – Make Sure there Actually IS an Arrest Warrant
If you have direct information that a warrant has issued, either from an investigating officer or you are in receipt of a letter saying as much, the first thing to do is to learn as much about the charges as possible. Discovering the charges, the court issuing the warrant, and the amount of bail, if any has been set, are the immediate tasks at hand.
One way to learn more about an existing warrant is to contact a reputable bail bondsman – or do an online search using commercial site, such as www.cocourts.com or the sites for the various counties.
There is no consistency in researching the existence of the warrant – every county is different – but that issue is not the subject of this article. There are several sites that provide updated warrant records for each county in Colorado – you may need to do some digging to find the correct website for your county.
Why was the Arrest Warrant Issued? How Does that Happen?
An arrest warrant is essentially a legal “writ” or “court order.” It means a Colorado judge has reviewed a sworn affidavit or other source of sworn information from a legitimate source such as a police or probation officer and, based on the information provided, the judge, finding “probable cause” has issued an order – an arrest “warrant,” which instructs law enforcement to arrest a suspect and take them into custody.
So, Exactly is Probable Cause?
“Probable cause” to arrest someone exists when the facts and circumstances within the police officer’s knowledge would lead the officer to reasonably believe that someone has committed a crime.
Under Colorado law, “probable cause” is more than a hunch or mere suspicion, but does not require proof beyond a reasonable doubt that a person has committed a crime. An arrest warrant issued is almost always based on a one-sided view of the evidence, in the form of an affidavit, and it usually does not contain ANY of the possible defenses among the factual allegations contained in the warrant.
Can a Colorado Arrest Warrant Rely Solely Upon the Allegations of One Person Without Any Other Substantive Information?
This may come as a shock to the CSI Generation, but the answer is a resounding “yes.” A person can be, and often is, arrested solely upon the allegations of one party without a requirement of any other kinds of “corroborating” evidence such as, for example, in an assault case, photographs of injuries or other eyewitnesses.
Probable cause is a very low threshold for the issuance of an arrest warrant and only a verbal allegation that another has been victimized by a suspect, without anything else, is enough for a warrant to issue.
This situation is most common in Colorado domestic violence crimes or other “he said/she said” criminal allegations. When a police officer drafts an affidavit, there is no one there to make certain he or she includes ALL of the relevant facts – exculpatory (pointing to innocence) or inculpatory (pointing to guilt). An affidavit in support of a request for an arrest warrant may be accurate and reasonable or it can be exceedingly one-sided and exaggerated.
The Amount of Bail Bond Set On the Warrant
At the time a Colorado judge approves and signs the arrest warrant, the judge, in many instances, will set a bail bond amount. The judge usually confers with the agency requesting the warrant as to whether to set a bond and the amount of that bond. There are times, in certain kinds of cases, that the judge will issue a “no bond” warrant, leaving bond to be set at the first court advisement or “bond hearing” following the arrest.
When the judge issues a “no bond” arrest warrant, the need to retain an experienced criminal defense lawyer to set up the surrender becomes imperative. An experienced attorney will work with the prosecutor, and later the judge, to help finalize a reasonable monetary amount for the specific charges, as well as conditions for that bond.
The Issuance of a Colorado Arrest Warrant can Sometimes be Delayed for a Variety of Reasons – “Waiting for the Warrant”
Arrest warrants may or may not issue following a police investigation. While this article assumes the warrant has issued, there are cases – particularly complex felony cases – where there is a delay (sometimes lengthy) before the warrant is issued.
“Waiting for the warrant” or living with the knowledge of an impending arrest warrant, and not knowing if or when it will be issued, is incredibly stressful. In those complex cases, it may make sense to retain a lawyer for “pre-filing investigation” representation.
At this phase, retained counsel can begin doing their due diligence and following up with the assigned district attorney to the case. This is helpful because counsel will know early on when the district attorney files charges and an arrest warrant is issued – or, conversely, when a DA declines to file charges or rejects the case for filing.
Once You Confirm You Have an Arrest Warrant – Call a Good Lawyer
The balance of this article assumes you have confirmed that you are wanted and an arrest warrant has issued. It is wise at this point, if not before, to contact an experienced Colorado criminal defense lawyer who will advise you about the many issues you are about to face and to determine the best and safest course of action for the best result in your case.
It will be your lawyer’s job to discover the exact nature of the charges and to “discover” the extent of the investigation performed to the point of the issuance of the warrant. Thus, the real “meat and potatoes” of the case begins – which includes working with your lawyer to gather the available exculpatory evidence with the ultimate goal of developing a defense theory that will achieve the best possible result in your case.
One of the most important early tasks requires tracking down any exculpatory evidence that may exist in the case. Is there video? Other independent eyewitnesses? Is there physical evidence that has been overlooked? The reason to act quickly is to prevent the spoliation or loss of evidence. Memories fade, and evidence can be lost or destroyed with the passage of time.
The early intervention of an experienced Colorado criminal defense lawyer can make a clear difference even at this stage of a criminal case. An experienced attorney can offer the kind of guidance/assistance required to make the proper arrangements to surrender on the warrant. Whether you are innocent of the crimes charged, or not, pro-actively and intelligently reacting to the arrest warrant in setting up a well-conceived surrender is an important step in the process.
Being Arrested is a Frightening Experience – Prepare Yourself Mentally and Physically from the Start
While not often addressed by those in the criminal court system, it is certain that for most people there is extreme emotional distress related to learning of the existence of an arrest warrant. Intense negative emotions such as fear, depression, and/or anxiety are felt at a high level and usually on a daily basis. This state of mind permeates the defendant’s health and mental well-being. The feelings run the gamut from panic and anxiety, to paranoia, worry, and embarrassment, and even sadness about the warrant.
An arrest can occur anywhere and at anytime. That includes the police showing up at the front door of your home, your place of employment, or as a result of contact at a routine traffic stop. That is why it is necessary to take control of the situation.
The help of a lawyer at this stage may make the difference to your employer, and your family and friends. Typically, facing the issue head on and not hiding from the warrant will give you relief. When the warrant has been taken care of, you can focus on fighting the case rather than running from the warrant.
Controlling the time and place of your surrender avoids the embarrassment of being arrested in front of your children, your neighbors, or your business colleagues. It is highly advisable to control of this process with the help of a bonds person, your lawyer, or both.
Bargaining with Yourself
Most individuals understand and expect that they will be caught eventually, and most want to set up a plan to surrender at some point. When making the decision of how and when to surrender on the warrant, the tendency is to “negotiate with oneself.”
It is common to set out plans such as – after the holidays – or one more weekend – or when the apartment lease runs out… The surrender plans are as varied as the people making them. The intention of this article is to provide assistance in planning that decision and making those plans as concrete as possible.
How to Surrender on an Arrest Warrant in Colorado – How Do I Turn Myself In?
A surrender “plan” means turning yourself in to the authorities. This usually means contacting the police department or sheriff and physically going to the police department or the county jail. The best approach is to have your lawyer work with the arresting officer or primary investigator to arrange a convenient time and date to turn yourself in.
Once at the county jail, the jail authorities, usually a sheriff, will detain you and book you into the system. This is the physical part of the arrest. It is a good idea to contact a reputable Colorado bail bonds person and prearrange the posting of bail bond. A good bail bonds person, and a good lawyer, can assist you in keeping your stay in the jail as short as possible.
A good surrender plan means initiating and controlling the timing of the surrender. The idea is to turn yourself in before you are tracked down and arrested. As soon as you learn that an arrest warrant has been issued – take charge – initiate your surrender plan into action.
This is the best course of action because you can avoid a needlessly extended stay in the jail. For example, if you are caught and arrested on a Friday or Saturday evening, you may not be able to bond out until the following Monday if bail bond has not already been set – you may have to wait to see a judge. By planning your own surrender, you avoid staying any longer than the bare minimum to bond out.
The Timing of Your “Surrender Plan”
Surrender planning means addressing and then constructing the specific “logistics” of the act of surrendering. Where and when to surrender is always fact specific to your case. Surrender planning has to be clear and logical.
● Construct a list of all phone numbers for family, friends, the bonds person and your lawyer and take it with you – you will not have easy access (or sometimes any access) to your cell phone.
● When the time comes to go to the police station or the jail, never bring any valuable personal property on your person or, if you have your car with you, don’t leave such property in your car.
● I recommend bringing only one credit card, your cell phone, and your driver’s license.
● If you are on critical medication, bring it with you, along with a letter from your physician regarding the medication and the reason it is necessary. If possible, try to research the policies of the county jail in advance to know their medical policies.
● Wear comfortable clothes that you don’t care about – a clean shirt, decent jeans, and slip-on shoes – no laces. Remove any and all jewelry in advance (especially body jewelry).
● If you are a care-giver for your parent or parents or you have children, arrange for their care for much longer than you believe you may be held.
● Clear your absence with your employer, if any. This is a delicate area and is specific to the person surrendering as to what kind and how much information that you want to share.
● Turn yourself in on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, not on a Monday especially after a holiday weekend. Mondays are extremely busy following the arrests that are made over the weekend. Friday surrenders are also a very bad idea as you may not see a judge for the entire weekend depending on the jurisdiction.
● Be careful NOT to have an kind of contraband with you such as utility knives, belts, shoelaces, and drawstrings.
Remember to Never Speak to the Police About the Crimes You Are Alleged to Have Committed – Never
A reminder about not making any statements, oral or written without a lawyer:
● Upon learning of an arrest warrant, immediately retaining a criminal defense lawyer is the best reaction to making certain you construct the best defense to a criminal investigation. A warning – never try to “talk your way out of it” or explain what happened.
● When you are under arrest and in custody, you may feel vulnerable, which sometimes makes people prone to make statements that can later could be used against them. It is a common tactic for the police to use a crisis to manipulate you and to use your weakness to confess to the crimes under investigation.
● Law enforcement officials are trained to obtain incriminating statements by using such tropes as “trying to get your side of the story.” Don’t fall for it – never make a statement under any circumstance. Always remain silent and refuse to answer any questions. Refuse any attempt to interrogate you without first consulting with an experienced criminal defense attorney.
● Do not speak to anyone except a lawyer about the case. Do not post anything online or on social media. Do not email or text anyone about the case. Don’t leave any voice messages or hand written notes to anyone about the case. Do not discuss the case over the phone with anyone while you are in custody- including video phone conferences. Everything in the jail is recorded. Essentially, impose a “black out of information” to anyone but your lawyer.
● Don’t contact any witnesses or victims of the crime. The police may try to set up a pretext phone call by using the victim to obtain an incriminating statement from you – don’t fall for this common tactic.
● Don’t contact the District Attorney or the judge to “plead your case.” Never send letters to these parties without your lawyer’s knowledge.
● The Miranda Warnings are intended to help you understand your rights. Don’t ignore them – that you have the right to remain silent but that right can be “waived” if you voluntarily talk to the police. Give only the minimal information they require like demographic information such as you name, age, address, and date of birth during booking.
Finally, a Word About the Psychology of “Avoiding” the Arrest Warrant
When a person becomes aware of an active arrest warrant it is entirely normal to fall into a state of denial and to develop psychological “strategies” to try to evade the problem at hand.
Life in this state is guided by doing what is necessary to avoid an arrest by calculating the risks of one’s every action in the face of the warrant.
“What are the probabilities I will be caught?” And “If I am caught what are the consequences? Will I lose my job? Destroy of my finances? Will this have a negative impact on my relationships?”
It is exhausting calculating such decisions as who you can socialize with, whether you should you leave the house, if you do leave, should it be by day or night, should you walk or drive? These are only a few of the considerations someone running from an outstanding warrant may have to contemplate, daily.
It is understandable that many of my clients raise concerns with the criminal justice system. Many view the system with distrust and see it as unfair, untrustworthy, without respect, empathy, compassion, or concern for who they are and their situation – and they are correct.
As a legal practitioner, I believe that understanding how those who face arrest warrants cope with their fears can be helpful. This is why I included the section below – to (hopefully) help the reader understand their feelings.
The strategic behavior of evading arrest can be broken down into themes. These themes are consistent with one another and fall under the umbrella category of “avoidance behaviors” that are common to those who learn there is a warrant for their arrest.
The themes are:
Hiding in Plain Sight.
Pure avoidance is a constant effort to stay away from the police because it is the police that have the direct authority to take them into custody. This kind of avoidance extends to agencies who have “contact” with the police – such as medical facilities, public safety agencies, human services, employment agencies, and educational institutions – all who may share information such as warrant status information, or address information with law enforcement.
Social isolation is often coupled with pure avoidance because it reflects the next step in a process in which a person experiences constant awareness that the people in their lives may bring the attention of the “authorities.” Those who practice social isolation rarely or never leave their homes, and are careful of what they eat and where they obtain their food. They may identify either family members or partners as being “safe,” but only those inside their inner circle are safe and almost everyone else “cannot be trusted.”
These individuals withdraw from their support system and drain their resources, often increasing their problems.
They may go to the extreme of avoiding necessary medical treatment and will actually suffer the physical consequences of an untreated medical condition if there is a chance they could be “discovered” by law enforcement. Isolation means they will not be arrested, but the consequences mean living a life so detached from society as to avoid capture, it takes a huge emotional toll with potentially lasting effects.
For these individuals it is better to live in the community with a longstanding warrant hanging over their head, than to turn themselves in.
Hyper-vigilance (sometimes bordering on paranoia) is the constant fear that the police are close by – which usually manifests as “looking behind your back” every day. It is an enhanced sense of alertness and behavior that is adapted to prevent an assumed danger. It leads to almost certain emotional distress and a panic and anxiety that never goes away until one is caught and arrested.
Unpredictability is another strategy individuals use to try to evade arrest.
Examples include: constantly moving from location to location, intentionally not working, and even drastically cutting ties to family and friends. Unpredictability is characterized by erratic behavior and a chaotic lifestyle. The reasoning here is that the police cannot locate them precisely because there is no consistency in there lifestyles.
Hiding in Plain Sight
Hiding in plain sight is precisely as it sounds. Those with arrest warrants continue to live their lives as they always have been. They make an effort to appear “normal” and therefore hope they do not draw the attention of the authorities by “hiding in plain sight.”
The strategy here is to avoid unwanted attention by continuing to do “normal things,” which include working their normal job, going for outings on the weekend, going to church, clubs or activities “normally” and hoping that all will just proceed as before. Here, the risk calculation includes the intended decision, of not surrendering on the arrest warrant, but also trying to provide for family and friends by continuing their former lives and understanding there is a higher risk of capture.
Understanding how others cope with the knowledge of an arrest warrant may be of some help in terms of how you may deal with your arrest warrant situation. If nothing else, I hope this article has provided some insight if you find yourself facing decisions surrounding an arrest warrant in Colorado.
Why Should I Turn Myself in for a Colorado Crime if I Am Innocent of that Crime?
Never stop fighting – never stop believing in yourself and your right to due process of law.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: H. Michael Steinberg – Email The Author at email@example.com – A Denver Colorado Criminal Defense Lawyer – or call his office at 303-627-7777 during business hours – or call his cell if you cannot wait and need his immediate assistance – 720-220-2277. Attorney H. Michael Steinberg is passionate about criminal defense. His extensive knowledge and experience of Colorado Criminal Law gives him the edge you need to properly defend your case.