What is a Capias Warrant?

Written by J. Hirby | Fact checked by The Law Dictionary staff |  

In the common law system of the United States, a capias warrant is essentially an order to arrest and detain an individual for the purpose of guaranteeing a court appearance. The Latin term capias translates into English as ?for the taking of,? but it is not commonly associated with the seizure of property or the search of premises. A capias warrant should be considered a writ of arrest.

In most instances, a capias warrant is issued in connection with failure to appear before court in a criminal case. A defendant who fails to appear at a criminal court proceeding, for example, could expect a capias warrant to be issued for his or her arrest.

Since a capias warrant is a compelling writ, a judge or magistrate must be prudent and ensure that he or she has compelling evidence to issue such an order.

Types of Capias Warrants

Criminal defendants who enjoy freedom thanks to having posted a monetary or signature bond are expected to appear at all scheduled court hearings. When they fail to do so, their bond may be revoked and a capias warrant may be issued. In this situation, law enforcement agencies are directed by the court to take the defendant into custody and deliver him or her to the court.

A capias pro fine occurs when a defendant has failed to comply with a court order related to a judgment. For example, a defendant expected to pay a fine or restitution could be the subject of a capias pro fine warrant, but this does not automatically imply that they must spend time at a detention center. The defendant is to be delivered directly before the judge; this gives the subject opportunity to show good cause or explain why the judgment has not been fulfilled.

Capias warrants are not limited to criminal cases. In various jurisdictions, defendants involved in traffic cases who fail to appear in court may be subject to a capias warrant if they fail to pay a fine imposed by a judge. Other jurisdictions issue capias warrants in relation to cases that originated in a civil or family division. For example, a person whose child support order falls into arrears might be compelled to appear before a magistrate by means of a capias warrant.

Sheriff and constable departments are usually tasked with executing capias warrants, although municipal, state and federal law enforcement agencies may contribute. In the case of defendants who skip on a bail bond, bounty hunters or bondsmen may seek to execute the capias warrant.

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