Legal Scenarios

Multiple Arrest Warrants – What is a character to do?


Todd from Utah is revising a manuscript involving a character with multiple arrest warrants in different states. His character is arrested and charged in New York for insider trading, then flees to Oklahoma where he is arrested for manslaughter. Todd wanted to know, because of the outstanding warrant in New York, what would be the procedure for prosecution of the two crimes?

Here is your answer Todd.

Arrest warrants in multiple states create various problems for a defendant, which is always good news for us writers. When the defendant is arrested in Oklahoma for manslaughter, the police will automatically search for outstanding warrants on databases like the National Criminal Information Center (NCIC), which is a computerized index of criminal justice information available to federal, state, and local law enforcement. Because of the outstanding warrant, the defendant in Todd’s scenario will not be released on bail. He is a flight risk and must answer, at some point, for the outstanding warrant.

Customarily, the apprehending state (in Todd’s scenario, Oklahoma) will contact New York to discuss priority of prosecution and workout the details as to who will hold the defendant during trial and when he will be extradited to answer for the outstanding warrant. Between a white-collar crime like insider trading and manslaughter, the latter would trump and Oklahoma would prosecute the defendant first. The defendant could request an extradition hearing but in the vast majority of cases extradition hearings are waived as a waste of time. The defendant usually consents to being extradited when it is time, that is, after the manslaughter trial is resolved.

A few points to note for dramatic purposes:

1. If the defendant fled the first state during trial, the judge (in this example, New York) would declare a mistrial. Once the defendant is located, the prosecution can move forward with a second trial.

2. The defendant’s attorney can attempt to cut a deal between the states for his client. Both courts might agree that any prison terms run concurrently and not consecutively, that is, the defendant gets credit in New York for serving time in Oklahoma. Or, a deal could be made where the defendant pleads guilty to the Oklahoma charge in exchange for dismissal of the charges in New York. If no deal is secured, the defendant could be saddled with consecutive terms.

3. Extradition is expensive.  The state requesting a defendant’s extradition to stand for a warrant foots the bill.  So if the crime isn’t worth the effort, the state may not be willing to pay for extradition. A SEC violation might get the defendant extradited. A traffic violation for $250? Probably not.

4. If someone fled a state to avoid an indictment or trial, that is a felony.  So when the person is arrested in Oklahoma for manslaughter, he will also be facing further charges in addition to the white-collar crime.

5. If the character is facing a bogus white-collar indictment, his attorney may want to insist on an extradition hearing to cause delay, to obtain discovery, or to expose the “bad guys” in a more hospitable jurisdiction. The Oklahoma setting and the extradition hearing could offer opportunities for conflict and plot advancement if needed.

Extradition procedures derive from the Extradition Clause of the Constitution and also, Federal statute 18 USC 3182.  Forty eight states have adopted the Uniform Criminal Extradition Act, which sets forth the procedures. If you need more information on extradition, David Shestokas has a helpful summary on extradition in the United States.

Special thanks to Mike Pace for his input.

If you have specific questions about your fictional scenario, speak with a local attorney from the pertinent jurisdictions.


Photo credit: Dave77459 via Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-SA

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