How to Navigate Federal Arrest Warrants

Finding yourself the subject of a federal arrest warrant can be an overwhelming experience. Understanding the process and knowing your rights can help you navigate this challenging situation with confidence and a clear idea of what to expect. This article explains how and when federal arrest warrants are issued, what to expect throughout the process when the warrant is executed, and what occurs when you are presented before the federal court. 

At Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law, we firmly believe that a client who understands the warrant process will be calmer and less anxious, making them open to sound advice and better able to make rational decisions. An informed client can actively participate in the decisions affecting their life and the family’s future. Contact Stechschulte Nell today for a full review of the case, whether you are still under investigation or you are already charged.  



Understanding Federal Arrest Warrants

While all arrest warrants are serious business, a federal arrest warrant is especially threatening to a person’s liberty. One of the primary reasons for this added sense of importance is that federal prosecutors file and prosecute far fewer cases than state-level prosecutors. At the same time, federal prosecutors have virtually unlimited recourse to investigate and prosecute people they indict. 

Fewer cases with more resources devoted to the prosecution put every defendant in a challenging position. Defendants need to hire their own counsel or have a lawyer appointed by the court. This imbalance of financial resources (unless the defendant is very wealthy), tends to tilt the federal criminal justice system in the government’s favor. But the law is a tool available to and useful to experienced criminal defense lawyers who know how to use its power for the client’s benefit. 

The federal arrest warrant itself is a legal document issued by a federal judge or magistrate authorizing law enforcement officers to arrest and detain an individual suspected of committing a federal crime. These warrants are required to be issued based on probable cause, which means there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable person to believe that the individual has committed the alleged offense. 

NOTE: An Arrest Warrant Is Not the Same as a Search Warrant 

This may seem like an unnecessary reminder. But people who are told that a warrant for their arrest was issued sometimes think that the authorities may then search the arrestee’s home, or car, or office. This is not the case. An arrest warrant authorizes the arrest of the named individual. Only a separate and independent search warrant can authorize a search of the premises.  

When faced with an arrest warrant, law enforcement agents often ask the person in custody if they may search the premises. Believing that the search is inevitable, many people consent to the search. DO NOT CONSENT to any search of a container, vehicle, or rooms unless a search warrant is issued. Consenting to a search without a warrant handcuffs your defense lawyer and usually provides devastating evidence to the prosecution. 


Issuance of Federal Arrest Warrants

Federal arrest warrants are issued under a variety of specific circumstances. 

Following a Criminal Investigation: When federal law enforcement agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), conduct criminal investigations and gather evidence implicating an individual in a federal crime. The evidence gathered will be detailed in an affidavit sworn to by an authorized law enforcement agent. A judge or magistrate will review the affidavit and issue an arrest warrant if the affidavit contains information amounting to probable cause. 

Following a Grand Jury Indictment: A grand jury indictment is a formal charging document issued by the grand jury after reviewing evidence presented by prosecutors. If the grand jury finds probable cause to believe the individual committed the alleged offense, they will issue an indictment, leading to the issuance of a federal arrest warrant. 

Magistrate Judge Determination: In cases where federal agents or prosecutors present evidence to a magistrate judge, demonstrating probable cause to believe that an individual has committed a federal offense, the judge may issue an arrest warrant. This may or may not be after an intense investigation. If the evidence was developed recently and it is sufficient to satisfy probable cause, the magistrate judge will sign the warrant. 

Execution of Federal Arrest Warrants 

Once a federal arrest warrant is issued, law enforcement officers are authorized to locate, apprehend, and detain the individual named in the warrant. Here’s what typically happens during the execution of a federal arrest warrant: 

  • Investigation and Surveillance: Law enforcement agencies may conduct investigations and surveillance to locate the individual named in the warrant. This may involve collecting information from witnesses, conducting interviews, and monitoring the individual’s known associates and whereabouts.
  • Arrest and Detention: When law enforcement officers locate the individual, they will arrest and detain them pursuant to the terms of the warrant. This may involve a physical arrest at the individual’s home, workplace, or another location, depending on the circumstances.
  • Miranda Rights: Upon arrest, the individual must be informed of their Miranda rights, including the right to remain silent and the right to legal representation. While the law does not require every arrestee to be “Mirandized” before questioning, law enforcement must inform every person in custody of their rights before questioning them. Federal authorities do so routinely. 

It’s essential to exercise these rights and refrain from making any statements without consulting an attorney. Be courteous and be quiet. Wait to speak with your criminal defense lawyer before speaking to anyone about the facts of your case. 

  • Booking Process: The individual will be taken to a law enforcement facility for the booking process, which includes fingerprinting, photographing, and recording personal information. They will also be searched for weapons or contraband. 

Presentment of the Defendant 

After the arrest, the individual will be brought before a federal magistrate judge for an initial appearance, also known as presentment. Here’s what to expect during this stage: 

In most cases, the defendant must be presented before a magistrate judge without unnecessary delay, typically within 48 hours of arrest. This ensures that the defendant’s constitutional rights are upheld, including the right to a prompt judicial determination of probable cause.  

During the presentment hearing, the magistrate judge will inform the defendant of their rights, including the right to legal representation, the right to remain silent, and the right to a preliminary hearing or detention hearing. 

The magistrate judge will determine whether to release the defendant on bail or order their detention pending further proceedings, called a detention hearing. This decision is based on factors such as the seriousness of the offense, the defendant’s criminal history, and the risk of flight or danger to the community.  

If the defendant is detained, as is typical in gun and drug-related cases, the magistrate judge will set future court dates, including a preliminary hearing to determine probable cause and arraignment, where the defendant will enter a plea to the charges. 


Keys to Navigating a Federal Arrest Warrant 

If you learn of an outstanding federal warrant for your arrest, or if you are surprised by the appearance of law enforcement agents executing a warrant for your arrest, there are several keys you need to remember to get through the experience with as little additional trouble as possible: 

  • Do not speak with the agents or anyone else about anything other than your name, date of birth, and the fact that you want to speak with a lawyer.  
  • Inform any federal agent or other official that you invoke your right to remain silent and decline to answer questions. Sometimes, it’s natural to converse with people, especially if you are under stress. Do not do it. Be polite and be quiet until you meet with your lawyer. 
  • Do not consent to any searches of any property, including your phone, your laptop, or any containers, real estate, or vehicles.  
  • Do not attempt to destroy evidence or lie to the federal agents. Lying to a federal agent in an investigation is a crime, as is obstructing a criminal investigation by tampering with or disposing of evidence. 


Navigating a federal arrest warrant can be overwhelming, but you don’t have to face it alone. At Stechschulte Nell, our experienced attorneys are ready to guide you through each step of the process, ensuring your rights are protected and your case is handled with the utmost care. If you or someone you know is facing a federal arrest warrant, do not hesitate to reach out.  

Call us today at 813-280-1244 for a comprehensive review of your case and begin building a strong defense with a team that stands for you. 

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