This article was updated: Oct. 21st, 2023

An arrest warrant lets a police officer take you into custody. If you are placed under arrest, or if you know or believe that an arrest warrant has been issued in northern Virginia with your name on it, you must contact a Fairfax criminal defense attorney as quickly as possible.

How do arrest warrants work? Can a criminal defense attorney have your arrest warrant “lifted” or cancelled? If you are placed under arrest on the basis of an arrest warrant, what steps should you take? Keep reading to learn more about arrest warrants and your rights here in Virginia.

If a police officer actually sees you breaking the law, that officer can arrest you with no warrant, even for misdemeanors like public intoxication and driving under the influence (DUI). But in most other cases, the police cannot place you in custody without an arrest warrant.

When and How Do the Police Obtain Arrest Warrants?

If the police have reasonable cause to suspect that you’ve committed a crime, they can take their suspicions to a judge and ask that judge to sign an arrest warrant with your name on it. With an arrest warrant, the police may arrest you at your home, your job, or even during a traffic stop.

A summons or ticket will be issued for most traffic infractions and other minor violations. A summons does not require an arrest and does not have to be issued by a judge. If you are issued a summons, by signing it, you are promising to appear in court on a particular date.

If you’ve been charged with a crime in Virginia, and you do not appear in court, you may be named in a bench warrant, an arrest warrant that’s issued by a judge “from the bench.” Offenders who are on probation and accused of violating probation may also be subject to bench warrants.

When May an Arrest Warrant Be Lifted or Dismissed?

An arrest warrant can be dismissed or lifted when it names the wrong person or if the wrong crime is charged. These are the most common reasons for dismissing an arrest warrant.

But a minor flaw in an arrest warrant – the wrong date or a typographical error, for example – usually by itself is not sufficient to have an arrest warrant or a criminal charge dismissed. The police are not required to meet with you or to notify you before they obtain an arrest warrant.

If an arrest warrant does not spell out sufficient probable cause for your arrest, that flaw in the warrant can be used by your attorney in your defense, and in some cases, it may be possible to have such an arrest warrant dismissed.

Let an Attorney Help

Let’s face it. There’s nothing pleasant about being placed in police custody and being prosecuted for a crime. You will need reliable legal advice from a Fairfax criminal defense lawyer – immediately.

A criminal conviction can take your freedom, erode your financial resources, and have other negative consequences for years to come. Whether you are innocent of committing a crime or guilty as charged, you must have a defense attorney who will fight effectively on your behalf.

It might look hopeless after you’ve been arrested, booked, and charged with a crime, but you must remember that an arrest is not the equivalent of a conviction, and the state must prove that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in order to win a conviction against you.

What Happens at an Advisement or Arraignment Hearing?

In Virginia, your first court appearance after an arrest on a criminal charge is called an advisement or an arraignment.

The purpose of this hearing is to read the charge or charges against you, to explain that a conviction may result in a jail or prison term, and to determine if you have an attorney.

If you need to hire a Virginia criminal defense attorney – and you will, unless you already have a lawyer – the court will set an “attorney review date,” a deadline for hiring an attorney and for that attorney to file a Notice of Appearance confirming to the court that he or she represents you.

A criminal defense attorney usually begins a defense by looking for flaws in the state’s case and then asking the prosecutor to drop the charge or charges or asking the court to dismiss the case.

If the charge or charges cannot be dropped or dismissed, and if you are innocent, your attorney can take your case to trial and explain to the jurors why you should be found not guilty.

After an Arrest, Exercise Your Rights

Do not try to act as your own lawyer. Criminal law in Virginia is complicated and exceedingly difficult to understand. Moreover, anything you say or any mistake that you make can be used against you.

After an arrest, you will need to be advised and represented by a Fairfax criminal defense attorney who will develop an effective strategy for your defense and guide you through the criminal justice process.

Whether you are released after an arrest or held in custody, anything you say to a police officer could be used against you. Exercise your right to remain silent. If the police interrogate you, simply say, “I prefer to exercise my right to remain silent until my attorney can be present.”

How Will a Defense Attorney Work on Your Behalf?

When you are facing a criminal charge, a good defense lawyer will:

1. carefully scrutinize and examine the case against you
2. seek to have the charge reduced, dropped, or dismissed
3. gather evidence and question witnesses on your behalf
4. bring the case to its best possible conclusion

What is the Best Way to Deal With an Arrest Warrant?

While an arrest warrant may be lifted if it names the wrong person, if the wrong crime is charged, or if the warrant does not provide adequate probable cause for an arrest, these situations are rare.

If you learn or believe that an arrest warrant has been issued for you, contact a Virginia criminal defense attorney immediately and arrange to turn yourself in to the police and to be accompanied by your attorney. In many cases, turning yourself in will work in your favor.

What you cannot do is overlook or ignore a warrant for your arrest. It will not go away, and the sooner it is resolved with your attorney’s help, the sooner you will be able to enjoy peace of mind and move forward with your life.