Dabney: Scofflaws And Warrants … Don’t Let A Ticket Land You In Jail

By Attorney Philip J. Dabney
Reid Griffith Law Firm
 

Our small community has two newspapers, and both routinely report on local police activities. Each has a “police blotter” with the recent arrests by Los Alamos Police and other authorities. Many of you who look to see if your friends or enemies have been arrested and how badly their mugshots turned out may wonder what it means when someone is arrested for an outstanding warrant.

Most of the time, an outstanding warrant arises when that person failed to appear in court to respond to a minor traffic or other criminal charge. Other times, the person may have appeared in court and agreed to pay a fine or perform conditions  to close out a traffic or other minor offense, then neglected to pay the fine or complete the conditions within the time frame required by the court.

Police maintain extensive records that include outstanding warrants issued by courts. Those records typically are accessible by computers in the squad cars that pull over drivers. If you are pulled over for, say, speeding or failing to make a complete stop, police will run your license through a records check. If you have an outstanding warrant, what otherwise would be a traffic ticket or a warning could result in your arrest and a trip to the nearest jail.

If you are still reading, this is where many of you say, “That will never happen to a law-abiding citizen like me!” And this is where I tell you true stories of law abiding citizens – like yourself going to jail!

A former law partner and good friend with a bit of a lead foot was stopped a few years ago in Las Vegas, Nev., for speeding. The officer ran a records check and found an outstanding warrant, because my friend had been so busy with his law practice that he forgot to pay the fine for the last traffic ticket he had negotiated. He got a free ride to the Clark County Detention Center, where after a few hours in a crowded, smelly holding tank, he was able to post bail in the amount of his fine and then go get his car out of the impound lot.

A runner at another firm didn’t fare as well. She was a student at UNLV and a law-abiding citizen. She got a ticket for speeding, and she gave it to an attorney in the office to negotiate. The attorney forgot to calendar the hearing date, and the judge issued a bench warrant for the runner’s arrest. Two weeks later, on a Friday, the runner was riding in a car with a friend who got pulled over.

The diligent officer ran a records check on the driver AND the runner. The outstanding warrant came up, and the runner was carted off to jail. Unfortunately, she had no one in town to bail her out, so she spent the weekend there. Imagine the tearful conversation I had with her the following week!

Avoid jail for minor offenses by timely handling any traffic or other minor criminal offenses you are charged with. Make your court appearances and complete your requirements timely, including fine payments. If you hire an attorney to handle your matter, follow up with the attorney to make sure your matter got resolved and didn’t fall through the cracks.

If you find out a warrant has been issued for your arrest, take steps immediately to clear it up. Contact the court where the warrant was issued and find out what you need to do to quash the warrant or pay the fine and clear it. Be prepared to pay extra for allowing the matter to go into warrant. For Los Alamos municipal warrants, look on the county website for more detailed instructions on what to do.

Don’t wait for that inevitable stop by local police for your free trip to jail!

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