First, let’s discuss why you might have a warrant in the first place whether in Chicago or anywhere else in Illinois. There are basically two common situations. Sometimes, a warrant is issued because you failed to comply with a lawful court order and other times it’s because the police have filed a new case against you:
Warrant for a Failure to Comply or Appear
Whether you were issued a minor traffic ticket or charged with a misdemeanor or felony case, you will usually have been given a date to appear in court and answer the charges placed against you. The exception to this would be for very minor traffic or ordinance violations called petty offenses, which can sometimes be paid by mail. When you have been assigned a court date, that date will appear either on your traffic citation or on your “bond slip” which a document you should have received from the police when released from custody. Occasionally, the court information will be sent to you later in the mail. It will typically contain the court date, court time, court address and court room for you to appear.
Many court locations are being conducted remotely by Zoom this year, but make no mistake, whether in-person or by Zoom, court is still court and a warrant may issue for a failure to appear at either. If you don’t show up at court, a Judge might decide to give you one more chance to show up and you might be notified of this last chance to appear in the mail. On the other hand, you may get no such opportunity and the warrant may be issued immediately. Whether the Judge issues the warrant right away or gives you a second chance will usually depend on a few factors:
- The severity of the offense and whether it’s a felony or misdemeanor
- Your criminal and/or traffic history
- Your history of missing court dates in the past and whether previous warrants have been issued for your arrest
- The skills of your attorney in persuading the Judge to not issue the warrant
- Whether you have appeared for all of your previous court dates on this case
- Who your Judge and prosecutor are that day
A warrant can also issue for a failure to return to court at the end of your supervision or probation period, a failure to appear for a status date or may even be issued against a subpoenaed witness who failed to comply with the terms of a subpoena.
Warrant for a New Criminal or Traffic Offense
In other circumstances, you may be arrested based upon a brand-new case that you may know nothing about. This typically happens in one of two ways:
- Late Report of Crime: Although the vast majority of citations and tickets are issued on the spot or after being brought to the police station after arrest, many cases are brought by victims who report the offense days, weeks, months or even years later.
- Police Investigation: In other cases, especially serious or complicated cases such as reckless homicide, fraud, or sex offenses, the case may be assigned to a Chicago Police Detective who conducts an investigation which may take months or years to complete.
In either of these situations, once it’s been decided to charge a person with a crime, it’s then necessary for the police to “process” that person, which means for them to be fingerprinted, photographed etc. Although the police will sometimes just ask the person to come to the station for processing, it’s certainly more likely that the police will secure a warrant from a judge (often called a “bench warrant”) that allows the police to go arrest the accused.
How Do I Know if I Have a Warrant?
Good question. Police don’t usually just call you up and tell you that you have a warrant for your arrest. The reason for this is pretty obvious: people don’t like getting arrested (shocking – I know). For this same reason, if you call up the police and ask them whether you have a warrant, they won’t typically tell you either. They’ll just say that you need to come down to the station and then they’ll look it up for you. Why? Because if the police confirm that someone has an arrest warrant over the phone, the chances of them showing up to get arrested is not a very high percentage. Again, people don’t like getting arrested and some people may even flee the jurisdiction or the country once they hear that they’re wanted by the law.
You can however try contacting the Clerk of the Circuit Court to ask that question. Some county clerks will tell you and many won’t though, for the same reasons. If they do tell you, they usually won’t tell you how much the cash bond that needs to be posted is, however. Our office may be able to assist with this question though as we have access to various counties’ online systems.
Sometimes, it’s pretty obvious that you have a warrant because the police have come to your home looking for you or have been calling your phone.
I Know That I Have a Warrant. What Now?
If that’s the case, you have two basic choices. You can run or you can “submit yourself to the process” (which means turn yourself in). Running is generally not a great idea, because eventually you’ll get caught. It may happen when you’re pulled over for a minor traffic violation or even when you yourself has been the victim of a crime and report it to the police. Any situation in which the Chicago Police have contact with you and therefore need to check you out will likely reveal that you have a warrant for your arrest. You will then be arrested, usually at a time that is not convenient for you and in a manner that you may find embarrassing.
On the other hand, you can (and should) turn yourself in. This can be done directly to the police (any police station) or directly to the courthouse handling your matter. Many people call to hire us to help them turn themselves in, but this is not usually necessary. Unless you’re in fear that you’re going to be harmed by the police, you can turn yourself in as long as you follow just one rule: don’t talk, except to give basic name, birthdate, address information.
Unless you know how much your bail bond is going to be ahead of time, there will always be uncertainty when you submit yourself to the process. You may be released directly from the police station upon posting of a small cash bond, a large cash bond, no money at all (called an “I Bond” or “Personal Recognizance Bond”), or you may be held in custody and then taken in front of a Judge for him/her to set your bail amount.
Speak to an Experienced Chicago Warrant Attorney
Regardless of your circumstances, and whether you choose to do it with or without the assistance of an attorney, it’s suggested that you turn yourself in if you have a warrant. Only then can your lawyer begin to help defend you against the charges and bring the matter to a conclusion, so that you can stop looking in your rear-view mirror and get on with your life. Since 1990, the legal team at Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC has been helping clients charged with criminal and serious traffic matters. Call us today at (800) 996-4824 for immediate assistance and a free consultation.