Rule 421 and 430 of the Pennsylvania Court Procedures explain the process followed for the issue of different legal instruments including citations, summons, bench warrants and arrest warrants. Pursuant to these sections of the state criminal code, once a complaint is filed with a tribunal, the magistrate has the authority to decide on whether to issue a process or not.
The accusatory instrument that has to be submitted in court should clearly describe the criminal incident and the reasons on which the person in question is being suspected of commissioning the act. Depending on the nature of the incident, the issuing authority may decide to release a summons, a bench warrant or an active warrant. Usually, summons is issued when the complaint is filed by a civilian affiant.
Active warrants for arrests are only issued once the magistrate sees that there is clear probable cause which can be identified on the basis of the proof brought before the court in writing or by way of witness testimony. These have to point to the culpability of the alleged offender for the issue of the warrant.
If the accusatory instrument has been executed by a civilian, then the magistrate must have reasonable grounds to believe that a summons will be ignored by the defendant. Another scenario in which a warrant for arrest may be issued is if a summons or citation has been returned undelivered.
It should also be noted here that a warrant will only be issued in matters that involve the payment of a fine when the defendant is informed by first class mail that any default on the payment of such a fine or non-appearance for hearing will result in the issue of a bench warrant. As far as search warrants are concerned, these are also issued on the grounds of probable cause and like bench orders for arrests; they have a limited validity period.
For the execution of outstanding warrants, peace officers are allowed to break open doors and windows, go beyond county and state boundaries and effect arrests at any time of the day or night. However, these liberties are only granted when the matter in which the warrant was released is a felony or a serious misdemeanor.
In contrast, when a bench warrant is issued in connection with an ordinance violation, the fine amount will generally be stated on the warrant. When serving such an order, the officer will accept the signed not guilty or guilty plea from the defendant along with the full amount of cost or fine stated on the order.
If the detention is to be followed by a court appearance and the person in question has been taken into custody outside of the 6 am and 10 pm time limit, this individual will then be presented before the magistrate at the next earliest possible opportunity.
A warrant search in Pennsylvania can be initiated through more than one government agency. For instance, if you are looking for a generic warrant related inquiry, it would help to visit the local sheriff's office to look at their list of the county's most wanted. However, if you are looking for information on a certain individual, it will help to go through the Pennsylvania Access to Criminal History website (also known as PATCH).
The site allows inquiries from both registered and non-registered users and the response to a warrant search offered by the agency includes details on convictions, arrests and charges that are no more than 3 years old and cases in which a warrant has been issued. Applicants have to pay $10 per inquiry. The PATCH website is available at https://epatch.state.pa.us/Home.jsp. You can also contact the agency through the PATCH helpline number 1-888-783-7972.
There are two other options to find information on crime history and to request a personal background report. You can get in touch with the local clerk of court's office and request them to run your warrant search through their court dockets database. This agency maintains court records for civil as well criminal matters.
Finally, you can get in touch with the Pennsylvania State Police Central Repository service. Before they undertake a warrant search on your behalf, you will need to download the crime history information form available at http://www.psp.pa.gov/contact/Pages/Overview-of-the-Pennsylvania-Access-to-Criminal-History-(PATCH)_376.aspx. Send this with a $10 check to the PA State Police Central Repository at 164, 1800 Elmerton Avenue, Harrisburg, PA 17110.