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You are wanted in one state but live in another and you're curious about whether you can be arrested on an out-of-state warrant. The answer is yes, technically, in most situations.
But whether you will actually be arrested and extradited to the state where the warrant was issued will depend on several factors. States and counties allocate different amounts of resources to different aspects of law enforcement based on their priorities, and extradition can be expensive. Not all warrants are equally important, although any warrant signals unresolved trouble, and thus should be addressed.
First, the basics; a warrant is issued when a person fails to comply with a court order. Many warrants are for simple failures to appear on small, but not inconsequential, cases. When a warrant is issued, it is entered into a national database called the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). Nearly 2 million warrants a year are entered into the database reportedly.
People are picked up on these warrants in a number of ways. For example, say you are driving with a busted taillight in Maine and an officer pulls you over, runs your information, and discovers that you are wanted in Michigan for failure to appear in traffic court on a speeding ticket. This is probable cause for your arrest. The next question that presents is whether Michigan will want to spend its limited funds on getting you to court on that warrant. The state may decline.
Almost all states have enacted the Uniform Criminal Extradition Act, which provides general principles for local courts to consider when handling an extradition. There are also Constitutional principles that apply to extradition, requiring authorities of one state to hand over someone who has fled from justice in another state if charged with "treason, felony, or other crime."
States and even counties within each state also have their own extradition policies and procedures. For financial or other reasons, authorities are forced to prioritize extradition requests.
For example, Michigan issued a warrant for the arrest of street art superstar Shepard Fairey in 2014 -- he was wanted for defacing property. Fairey was arrested at the LAX airport in California but Michigan declined to extradite him (perhaps for publicity reasons) and, subsequently, Fairey turned himself in voluntarily.
It is always a big deal to have a warrant out for your arrest and it is best to handle any criminal justice issues promptly. But a state will obviously consider an outstanding warrant was for failure to appear in traffic court differently from one for skipping town ahead of a murder trial.
Whatever the reason you are wanted, speak to an attorney soon. Many criminal defense attorneys consult for free or a minimal fee and will be happy to talk to you about resolving your situation.
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.