What is an arrest warrant in Virginia?
One of the primary purposes served by an arrest warrant issued in the state of Virginia is to intimate the person against whom the order has been released of the charges filed by the state against him/her. Given this definition, it is understandable why a warrant is not required in cases where a police officer is a witness to the crime or when the alleged perpetrator is arrested from the scene of the incident. Similarly, a judicial order for arrest is also not needed when the individual in question is already being detained under an indictment.
Although local law enforcement has to make an express request for an arrest warrant whether such an order is granted or not relies entirely on the judiciary. The police or the office of the District Attorney has to file a formal complaint against an individual in the court of law which is treated as a source of information when ascertaining probable cause.
The sitting magistrate of the tribunal that hears the matter pertaining to the issue of a warrant is obligated to ensure that there is enough proof in the case for a reasonable person to believe that the criminal act has indeed been committed by the person against whom the warrant is being sought. In accordance with statute 61 of the Virginia Code, an arrest warrant can be issued by the judge or the clerk of a circuit court with criminal jurisdiction.
Apart from these members of the state judiciary, a judge of the juvenile court as well as any police justice holds the authority to issue such a detention decree. Also, any individual who has the statutory right to release such an arrest order can issue a warrant; however these office bearers usually only have the capacity to issue warrants in limited capacities.
For instance, the Corporation Commission of the state can issue an arrest order in cases pertaining to arson investigation while a superintendent of a hospital that provides care for mentally unstable individuals can release an order to detain a mentally deficient or inebriated person. Arrest warrants are generally issued in case of felonies and serious misdemeanors. However, the accused in a misdemeanor matter may request that the charge be clarified in writing in the form of a warrant.
Reasons for the issue of arrest warrants in Virginia State
The fourth amendment of the constitution of the United States expressly states that probable cause has to be ascertained by the sitting magistrate of the tribunal that has the authority to hear matters pertaining to warrants before such a detention decree is handed over to the police.Probable cause is clearly defined in this case as grounds for a reasonable person to believe that the crime mentioned in the complaint has been committed by the individual against whom the warrant is being requested.
While certain statutes might differ from the fourth amendment in terms of the language used and may not clearly state the legal mandate of establishing probable cause before a warrant is released, the necessary basis for the issue of an arrest warrant does boil down to probable cause. It is also imperative to understand that although the court is responsible for ascertaining probable cause, this does not mean that the accused is guilty as charged. In fact, all people who are arrested are innocent unless they are found guilty through criminal proceedings in which the jury decides whether the facts presented are enough to establish the involvement of the under trial in the crime.
When is a warrant issued in the state of Virginia?
An arrest warrant is generally issued in response to an affidavit filed in court by the local police or a public prosecutor who presents such a writ before the court at the behest of the sheriff’s department. However, a complaint of this nature can also be filed by the victim or a respectable citizen or a person with enough credible evidence or by the witness of a crime.
Often, a warrant is sought in matters where the police zero down on an accused after investigation; also, a warrant is frequently released when the alleged offender is absconding and the local police would like to enlist the help of other law enforcement agencies in the country to nab the perpetrator. Because an arrest warrant, once issued, gets stored in the national crime database along with the statewide criminal records repository, every peace officer in the state and the country has access to information on outstanding warrants.
What happens once a warrant has been issued?
Once a warrant is issued, the police are legally bound to present the accused before the court at the earliest. Depending on the nature of the offense, the warrant may bear a bail amount which can be paid to avoid arrest or to secure release almost immediately after being taken into custody. However, this is seldom done in case of felonies; in fact, in such cases, the offender has no choice but to wait for the magistrate to set a bond in a bail hearing. Of course, depending on the risk level of the individual in question and his/her crime history, bail may very well be denied.
Once a warrant has been released against a person, the police have complete authority to execute the order at any place and at any time. So, the accused can be picked up from a public place, a property owned or leased by him as well as third party premises. Also, peace officers are legally allowed to use any means of force required to bring the offender in. A warrant does not lose its efficacy just because of typographical or informational errors in it unless such mistakes impact the constitutional rights of the accused.
In case of such imperfections, the court reserves the right to amend the order as required. Similarly, the capacity of the state to try the individual for the crime that he is being charged of is not impacted in any sense just because the language used to describe the criminal act changes through the trial process, as long as the warrant and other documents used through the court proceedings clearly state what the person is being accused of.
Warrants and their validity
Arrest warrants issued in Virginia are valid in all other states; this means that a person who has a Virginia warrant against him can be arrested by a law enforcement agent in any other part of the country. However, to stand trial, the offender will be deported back to the county where the warrant was issued.Also, an active arrest warrant is not bound by time; in other words, there is no validity for the execution of such detention orders. Those decrees that remain un-served are simply stored in crime databases till such time that the individuals against who they were issued are taken into custody.
What resources are available for arrest records and warrant searches in Virginia?
A plethora of options are available for people who seek crime related information from state sources; these include:
- Virginia State Police only offers information on arrest records and crime history to entities and individuals who are authorized by statute to receive such data. This includes non justice and licensing state owned agencies, school districts and corporate entities that run establishments which offer care to children and disabled adults. To seek this information from the Central Criminal Records Exchange, you can mail a formal request to the CCRE department of the Virginia State Police at PO Box 85076, Richmond, VA 23261-5076. It generally takes 12 to 14 days to receive a response from the department.
- If you are an authorized entity, you can also seek this data through the Non Criminal Justice Interface which will get you a response within 72 hours by writing to the NCJI Department of State Police Criminal Justice Information Services Division, P. O. Box 27472, Richmond, Virginia 23261-7472.
- The sex offender registry for Virginia is offered online by the state police at http://sex-offender.vsp.virginia.gov/sor/.
- You can also access the most wanted list for the state from the official police website at http://www.vsp.state.va.us/WantedPersons.shtm.
- Finally, you can try the website of the court administrator to find records in civil and criminal matters at http://www.courts.state.va.us/caseinfo/home.html
Crime rates in Virginia
From the year 1999 to 2008, well over 2200,000 crimes were reported in the state of Virginia of which no less than 10% were instances of violent criminal activity. On an average, almost 700 criminal incidents are reported every day in Virginia of which more than half transpire within a one mile radius of the home or office of the victim. Over the ten year period mentioned above, there has been a dismal reduction of about 10% in the overall rate of crime.