*This article is intended for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice.

Pop culture has changed the way the general public understands a number of legal terms. Shows depicting courtroom cases or arrests make some of these terms more accessible, of course. However, these shows also simplify the courtroom process to make it more entertaining.

There’s nothing wrong with this. However, it does give people entering a courtroom setting overconfidence when it comes to interpreting legal jargon. Such is the case with the term “warrant.”

According to many television shows, warrants allow legal officials to enter into an unfamiliar home without the consent of the owner. While correct, this definition is limited.

If you read a PeopleFinders criminal records report and find your subject has had a warrant brought up against them, you need to understand the definition of the term in full.

What is a Warrant?

A warrant is best described as a legal document issued by an authority, such as a police officer or judge. This document allows its holder to commit acts that would otherwise be considered illegal or that would otherwise violate the rights of the individual United States citizen. Warrants also offer their holders protection against any damages or consequences they might otherwise face in relation to the act which they’ve been allowed to commit.

There are several different types of warrants, including:

  • Search Warrants – A search warrant allows its holder to search a person or property (be that property a location or vehicle) for evidence that a crime has taken place. This warrant also enables its holder to confiscate any relevant evidence.
  • Arrest Warrants – Arrest warrants serve as elevated search warrants. The holder of an arrest warrant has the right, as determined by the state of their operation, to take an applicable individual into custody and to hold that person within the letter of the law. These warrants also allow their holders to search and seize any evidence the holder may find on the target and/or the target’s property.
  • Bench Warrants – A bench warrant is issued by a judge, authorizing law enforcement to find and bring a person into court. This usually occurs when a person who’s required by subpoena, citation or summons to appear has failed to do so. It is also used in situations where the transfer of a person to court from jail is required, or if a person is found to be in contempt of court.

What’s the Relationship Between the Fourth Amendment and a Warrant?

The Fourth Amendment actively protects United States citizens against unlawful or unreasonable searches and seizures. The exact wording reads as follows:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Here, the versatility of language once again comes into play. It is up to legal officials to determine what qualifies as an “unreasonable” search or seizure. However, most warrants are considered to be reasonable when they are based on probable cause.

When Don’t Warrants Require the Fourth Amendment?

Even so, not all warrants obey the protections of the Fourth Amendment. For example, law enforcement can search public places, or places free of an expectation of privacy, without the need for a warrant. To keep law enforcement officials from using “expectation of privacy” to invade people’s space, the United States Supreme Court issued a test that determines whether or not a space is considered private. A space is considered private when:

  • The person inhabiting it, working in it or otherwise occupying it subjectively believed the space would remain private.
  • That subjective expectation proves to be objectively reasonable.

What is the Exclusionary Rule?

The limitations the Fourth Amendment places on warrants only applies to legal officials or those individuals acting at the behest of the United States government. A school security guard, for example, who is explicitly and solely employed by their school, would not have to operate with the limitations of the Fourth Amendment in mind.

That doesn’t mean that that individual is free to invade school lockers. Rather, it means if that security guard invaded the privacy of the students they served, they would face consequences for their behavior under different laws.

This differentiation between government representatives and working individuals is known as the “exclusionary rule.”

What Does it Mean if a Warrant Appears in a Criminal Records Report?

When reading a PeopleFinders criminal records report, you may come across a person who’s had a warrant issued against them. If you do, make sure you understand what kind of warrant was issued and how the subject was able to legally respond to its issuing. These details will help make the context of the warrant, as well as the warrant’s impact, clearer.