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A warrant is an order issued by the Judge authorizing police either to arrest a person or search of the premises (e.g. arrest warrant or search warrant). Both types of warrants may be issued simultaneously.

A bench warrant is a warrant for the arrest of the defendant who failed to appear in court when directed. It is issued by the Judge based only on the fact that the defendant did not appear in court on a particular date of the Court's appearance. It does not require any further affidavits or testimonies. An arrest warrant, other than a bench warrant, and/or a search warrant may be issued by the Judge of the Court of competent jurisdiction on an Affidavit and/or testimony of a law enforcement agent or an officer, indicating that there is a reason to believe that the crime was committed, in the case of the arrest warrant, or that certain premises may contain evidence of the crime that was likely committed.

As a practical matter, only in serious felony cases detectives will actively look for a warranted person. In the majority of other cases, including bench warrants for lesser offenses, the warrant will indefinitely stay in the various law enforcement databases and will be executed once the suspect comes into contact with law enforcement. The most common scenario is when the person is clearing customs and border controls in the airport, during the traffic stop, at the immigration interview, or when the person is detained or arrested on an unrelated matter. If that is the case, the law enforcement that has the custody of a warranted person will contact the jurisdiction that issued a warrant and will arrange for a transfer of custody (e.g. out-of-state detectives may come to pick the person up and transport him or her to the Court that issued the warrant).

In very rare serious cases, detectives may even contact Interpol and provide warrant information. If that is the case, Interpol will record such a warrant in its database, and the person may be arrested in any of the Interpol member countries (usually, while attempting to cross the border).