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Pennsylvania Warrant Search

Warrants in Pennsylvania are legal documents that authorize law enforcement agents to execute seizures, searches, and arrests. Judges of the municipal, Common pleas, Commonwealth, Superior, and Supreme courts can issue them. Philadelphia bail commissioners and magisterial district judges can also issue warrants.

Before a warrant is issued, Pennsylvania law enforcement officers must submit affidavits to convince a judge that they have probable cause to justify executing the search, seizure, or arrest. 

Each warrant in Pennsylvania is carefully detailed to satisfy legal requirements and protect Fourth Amendment rights. The document includes a subject's name (whether an individual or a property), specifies the nature of the action (whether an arrest, a search, or a seizure), and outlines the specific reasons or probable cause behind a warrant's issuance. 

Individuals can become subjects of warrants if they are suspected of committing a crime, have missed court appointments, or have failed to honor fines or other legal penalties imposed by a court. 

Are Warrants Public Records in Pennsylvania?

Yes, warrants are public records by default under Pennsylvania's Right-to-Know Law unless explicitly restricted by law, court rule, or court order.

For instance, according to Pa. Rule Of Criminal Procedure 513, members of the public can inspect arrest warrants once a judge issues them. However, the law permits law enforcement agents to petition the court to seal the warrant temporarily. The agent must include compelling reasons to restrict the warrant from public access in their affidavit. Upon finding a suitable reason to seal a warrant, a judge can seal the document for 72 hours. The warrant can be made public before the 72-hour deadline elapses if law enforcement executes it.

Meanwhile, per Pa. Rule Of Criminal Procedure 212, search warrants are considered public records only after execution. Unexecuted warrants are expunged alongside their application affidavits. This rule was enacted to protect the safety and interests of search warrant subjects, especially when it turns out the warrant was inaccurate.

Types of Warrants in Pennsylvania

The main types of warrants recognized under Pennsylvania law are arrest, search, and bench warrants. These warrants offer their executors (only peace officers and law enforcement officers) protection against civil or criminal liability while performing their official duties:

Arrest Warrants

Arrest warrants are judicial documents that authorize police officers to apprehend and detain people suspected of breaking the law. Only issuing authorities can approve these warrants in Pennsylvania. An issuing authority, per Pa. Rule Of Criminal Procedure 103, is any public official with the authority and power of a magisterial district judge, magistrate, or a Philadelphia arraignment court magistrate. However, arrest warrants are typically issued by magisterial district courts.

Search Warrants

According to Pa. Rule Of Criminal Procedure 201, search warrants authorize Pennsylvania law enforcement officers to search for and seize crime proceeds, criminally possessed items (including contraband), property with suspicious activity, and property that may be or contain evidence of a crime. 

Search warrants are issued by Philadelphia bail commissioners, magisterial district judges, and judges from the supreme, Commonwealth, and superior courts and courts of common pleas.

A typical search warrant contains the following information:

  1. The date and time it was issued.
  2. A clear description of the property to be seized.
  3. The specific person or place that will be searched.
  4. Instructions on when the search should happen—within a set time frame (not more than 2 days from issuance) or after a specific event occurs.
  5. Designation of the judicial officer to whom the warrant must be returned.
  6. Certification that the issuing authority has found probable cause based on facts presented in written affidavit(s).
  7. If applicable, certification that the affidavit(s) is sealed for a specific period for a good cause, following Rule 211.

Bench Warrants

Bench warrants are released for the arrest of an individual when they:

  • Fail to appear in court after receiving a subpoena, citation, court order, or summons
  • Entered a guilty plea by mail but the payment is less than the specified fine and costs.
  • Have been sentenced to pay restitution, a fine, or a court cost and have defaulted on the payment. 

In summary proceedings, Pa. Rule Of Criminal Procedure 430 establishes that a defendant must be notified via first-class mail or in person that failure to appear or pay the complete fine or costs will result in the issuance of a warrant. The judge can then issue the warrant if the defendant does not respond within 10 days after the notice has been given.

In other court cases, judges must be convinced that the individual has been duly notified or served the court papers before issuing the bench warrant. Bench warrants are usually vacated once the defendant appears or has been apprehended by law enforcement.

What is a Search Warrant in Pennsylvania?

A search warrant in Pennsylvania is any legal document that permits the use of necessary measures to search a property or person for information or materials related to an investigation and seize any criminal evidence discovered. Law enforcement officers must prove to a judge, magistrate, or Philadelphia bail commissioner using affidavits and other statutory documents that reasonable cause exists to obtain a search warrant in Pennsylvania. 

The application for a search warrant must bear the following information, per Pa. Rule Of Criminal Procedure 206:

  1. Name and department/agency/address of the affiant (applicant).
  2. Specific identification of items or property to be searched for or seized.
  3. Name or detailed description of the person or place to be searched.
  4. Identification of the owner, possessor, or occupant of the place to be searched.
  5. Specification or description of the crime involved.
  6. Detailed facts and circumstances that establish probable cause for the search.
  7. Justification for a nighttime search, if applicable.
  8. Reasons for requesting the sealing of affidavits, if necessary.
  9. Certification of compliance with the Case Records Public Access Policy of the Pennsylvania Judiciary.

Law enforcement officers must follow specific procedures enumerated in Pa. Rule Of Criminal Procedure 207 when executing a search warrant in Pennsylvania. Generally, Pennsylvania search warrants must be executed during daytime hours (6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.) unless a specific time is explicitly stated on the warrant.

However, before entering the premises mentioned in the warrant, the officer must try to announce their identity, authority, and the reason for their presence to the occupants. This notice is important unless urgent reasons demand immediate entry without notice.

Following the communication of their identity and purpose, the officer must wait for a reasonable amount of time for a response. This waiting period is intended to allow occupants to respond or comply with the warrant. However, if the occupants do not admit the officer after a reasonable period or exigent circumstances occur, the officer has the authority to enter the premises forcibly. They can also use the necessary physical force required to execute the search and fulfill the terms of the warrant.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Search Warrant?

Law enforcement officers can obtain search warrants in Pennsylvania within minutes or hours, depending on how long it takes to reach and persuade a judge. 

Per Pa. Rule Of Criminal Procedure 203, affiants can apply for and receive warrants electronically. They may contact an issuing authority in person, via telephone, or any other medium that allows audio-visual communication to verify their identity and swear an oath. The electronic process allows law enforcement officers to expedite the search warrant application process and obtain the document in minutes. 

However, the process may be prolonged if the issuing authority is unsatisfied with the application. In some cases, an officer may need to provide further evidence to convince the judge to sign off on the warrant.

What is an Arrest Warrant in Pennsylvania?

A Pennsylvania arrest warrant is legal paperwork issued by a magisterial district judge authorizing a police officer to take a suspect into custody. To obtain this document, a police officer must provide probable cause to a judge through an affidavit. The process is typically expedited once the officer procures the required evidence. 

Like search warrant applications, a peace officer does not have to travel to a courthouse or judge's office to apply for the warrant. They can communicate with the judge and swear the required oath over the telephone or via other audio-visual communication devices. The judge can then issue the warrant remotely.

Once a defendant is apprehended because of a warrant in Pennsylvania, they are processed and arraigned before the court. If a suspect is arrested within the judicial district where the warrant was issued, they can attend their preliminary arraignment immediately. In some cases, the issuing authority can conduct the hearing remotely.

However, if law enforcement arrests the suspect outside the issuing district, they may present the defendant before the issuing authority where the arrest happened to post bail. Bail is posted to allow the defendant to appear at a later date for arraignment in the issuing district.

Pa. Rule Of Criminal Procedure 515 stipulates that arrest warrants not executed because the suspect cannot be found must remain in the magisterial district, and the case cannot proceed to the court of common pleas.

Arrest Warrant Lookup in Pennsylvania

Individuals and entities have several methods for looking up arrest warrants in Pennsylvania. These methods vary in accessibility and convenience and cater to different needs and preferences.

The Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania's Warrant Search Portal

The Pennsylvania Judicial Branch offers an online portal for viewing arrest warrants. This online resource provides access to statewide warrants generated from the Magisterial District Judge and Common Pleas Criminal Court Case Management systems. Interested individuals must register to use the portal to search for active warrants.

Visiting Local Police Departments

Another reliable approach is visiting the local police department that obtained the warrant. Many police departments in Pennsylvania maintain records of arrest warrants issued within their jurisdiction. In-person visits can provide access to more detailed warrant information and the opportunity for direct interaction with law enforcement personnel. However, this approach may be subject to public office hours.

Visiting County Courthouses

Visiting the court premises where the warrant originated is another in-person method of obtaining arrest warrants in Pennsylvania. Courthouses maintain detailed records, including arrest warrants, and staff can assist individuals in finding the required information. To request these records, inquirers must provide details with which to facilitate the search, including the subject's full name (indicating any recent changes that apply).

County Websites for Active Warrants

Some counties in Pennsylvania publish active warrants on their official website. This method is particularly user-friendly and allows for quick searches from anywhere with internet access. However, it is important to note that not all counties may provide this service, and the scope of information available on the site can vary from one county to another. For example, individuals can visit Montgomery County's Active Bench Warrants database to view a list of active warrants. York County also runs a Warrant Search database that allows members of the public to view active warrants.

How to Find Out If You Have a Warrant in Pennsylvania

Some people may have warrants issued for their arrest without their knowledge. These may include individuals who forgot to show up at court over minor offenses such as traffic violations or after duly receiving subpoenas or other court notices. In such cases, they may be the subject of bench warrants. Such persons can visit the courthouse where they had the court appointment or received the court order check if a bench warrant has been issued. One can also go through the Statewide Warrant Search Portal of the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania to check if a warrant has been issued in their first name and last name.

On the other hand, individuals involved in criminal offenses or are party to criminal cases may also have warrants. They may contact the police department handling the case or the courthouse in their jurisdiction to confirm issuance.

Where a warrant was issued for a minor violation such as a failure to appear, the subject can negotiate with the court or district attorney to reschedule their hearing. In other cases, they can arrange to pay off any related fines or comply with the court's order.

Free Warrant Search in Pennsylvania

There are different free resources to search for warrants in Pennsylvania. Searching county search databases and the Commonwealth's judiciary web portal is free. Individuals who visit a police department or courthouse for a warrant search also may not have to pay a fee. However, individuals may have to pay if they want copies of warrant records.

How to Find Out If Someone Has A Warrant Online

Inquirers may use any of the following online platforms to find warrants online in Pennsylvania:

  • The Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania's Warrant Search portal
  • County warrant inquiry databases
  • Third-party warrant search websites
    Online warrant searches are typically advised as inquirers are must exercise caution while making in-person queries about these documents. If an active warrant is discovered in the process, the subject will likely be taken into custody immediately.

How Long Do Warrants Last in Pennsylvania?

There are distinct life spans for different warrant types in Pennsylvania. Arrest warrants typically remain outstanding until the subject dies or the judge recalls or quashes the warrant. On the other hand, regular search warrants expire after 2 days. If a search warrant is tied to an event, it expires after the event.

Pennsylvania Warrant Search
  • Criminal Records
  • Arrests Records
  • Warrants
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  • Misdemeanors
  • Bankruptcies
  • Tax & Property Liens
  • Civil Judgements
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  • Death Records
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  • Business Ownership
  • Professional Licenses
  • And More!