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Getting an ID: Will the DMV Check for Warrants?

Going to the DMV to get an ID, renew your driver's license, or reinstate your driving privileges after a license suspension can be tedious. Having a warrant makes this process even more precarious.

Most department of motor vehicles offices will check for warrants when they run your information. This doesn't necessarily mean you will get arrested on the spot at the DMV if you have a warrant. Depending on the nature of the warrant and the jurisdiction, DMV locations handle these situations in a few different ways.

Warrants for your arrest can happen for several reasons. Administrative mistakes like never receiving court date information or missing court due to scheduling conflicts can happen. Whether you accidentally or purposefully avoided court, arrest warrants can further complicate legal situations.

This article will help you know what to expect when visiting your local department of motor vehicles with a warrant.

Will the DMV Check for Warrants When I Try to Get a State ID?

Yes. The DMV will check to see if you have outstanding warrants, including bench warrants. A bench warrant is explicitly issued for failure to appear in court or comply with a court order.

A DMV office is a government building. It must uphold the law by screening drivers for good vision and their legal eligibility to drive. They also must follow specific procedures for handling residents with active warrants. But, how strictly they follow these rules can vary from city to city.

The DMV may have a Department of Public Safety (DPS) officer on-site. This is a tactic that some cities use to arrest people with outstanding warrants.

But, having law enforcement in person at DMV offices is not the most common tactic for catching those with warrants. Apprehensions for warrants are still most likely during a routine traffic stop.

Can I Go to the DMV with a Warrant?

Yes, you are free to go to the DMV. DMV offices do not run your ID information at the door. But, they will likely need some form of identification when serving you. Once they run your information, they can see any active warrants for your arrest.

If this happens, the DMV worker may handle this in a few different ways:

  • Call local law enforcement
  • Signal a plainclothes or DPS officer to approach you
  • Deny your services until the warrants get resolved (also called a "DMV hold" or a "warrant block")

If you have a DMV hold or a warrant block on your record, you cannot renew your driver's license or license plates until you resolve the warrant.

Can You Get an ID Card or Driver's License with a Warrant?

No, it is unlikely that a DMV employee will issue you a new license or renew an old one if you have a warrant. Most state policies say driving is a privilege for those without outstanding warrants.

A warrant also affects your ability to travel freely, drive, or start a new job.

Officers at government buildings, airports, and bus stations will check your ID against the national police database. The same applies to a passport, passport card ID, or a Real ID.

Having a warrant generally doesn't prevent you from applying for new jobs. But, most job offers are contingent on a background check, which includes a warrant check.

How Can I Get an Identification Card With a Warrant?

Dealing with the warrant is your only option. You may need to pay outstanding fines, attend a court date, or speak with a judge or probation officer to clear the warrant.

If you are unsure of the reason for the warrant and how to proceed, a criminal law attorney can look up your record and explain your options.

You can also call your local police department and have them look up your record. If you choose to do this, be aware that the law enforcement agency will have you on the phone and may be able to locate you. A police officer's job is to seek out and apprehend those with warrants. An attorney's job is to protect your rights and get you the best outcome possible.

What to Do If You Have a Warrant Out for Your Arrest

A warrant does not disappear on its own. They do not expire and go across state lines. Your only options are to take care of it by:

  • Turning yourself in (with or without an attorney on your side)
  • Wait for the police to find you and arrest you

Arrest warrants aren't reserved for egregious offenses only. They are also issued for common legal issues, including:

A "traffic warrant" is another name for a state warrant asking police to bring you into the local precinct.

Can They Arrest Me at the DMV for an Out-of-State Warrant?

It depends on the state. Most states' DMV databases link with federal reporting systems like the Department of Justice (DOJ), Homeland Security, and law enforcement databases.

Officers have the authority to enforce out-of-state warrants. If you have a warrant from another state, you can still get arrested for it in another state. If this happens, they can hold you locally until you can get extradited to the issuing jurisdiction.

State-Specific Rules for IDs and Warrants

Police can arrest you from any place if you have an active warrant. If you are on private property, the police may need more warrants. Since a DMV is public property, police can make arrests at the DMV in any state.

All states are legally instructed to handle arrest warrants in the same way. But whether the DMV employee calls the police to arrest you depends on the office's policies. It can depend on the staff at your particular police station or courthouse. It can also vary between rural areas and cities.

Some DMVs have an officer on site and will arrest you on the spot, while others may do nothing.

Handle Your Warrant Before Renewing a License

A criminal defense or traffic ticket attorney can offer legal advice. You can choose to hire them and form an attorney-client relationship. Then, they will defend the charges, fight to lower the fines, and have the warrant lifted.

Many attorneys can answer your warrant-related questions during a free consultation.

If you have a felony warrant out for your arrest, you should hire a criminal defense attorney. These warrants are even more severe, and you are likely facing a significant criminal defense case. Protect yourself by starting the process with an experienced attorney you trust.

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