Can I fly if I have a warrant?
We’ve discussed some of the issues travelers face as convicted felons or awaiting trial. There are some circumstances under which criminals who have served their time may legally hold US passports and travel outside the country again, and others who simply are barred from doing so: international drug traffickers are automatically disqualified, while those convicted of a sex crime may travel if their status is marked on their passport.
This is all very standard when it comes to federal crimes, but what about convictions and warrants at the state level, or warrants of which travelers may not even be aware, e.g. outstanding parking tickets and failure to show?
For example, let’s say you had a minor offense like being ticketed for expired registration or inspection of a vehicle. You supposedly mail in the fine, and then set out for a few weeks’ holiday. However, your check is lost in transit, the due date lapses, and a warrant is issued while you’re away. Would you then immediately be arrested on your return, having your passport or ID flagged at the airport? Or would you simply not be allowed to board in the first place?
Flying Domestically with a Warrant
Despite amazing advances in technology, there hasn’t been as much progress as you might believe in getting law enforcement and government agencies to communicate. As a result, airport police and the TSA may not necessarily have access to information on state-issued warrants… but they could. If you’re unaware of the existence of any warrants or unless a judge has specifically told you not to leave town, you should be safe to fly.
However, this says nothing about the consequences of leaving the jurisdiction on your return. Nor does it take into account warrants with nationwide extradition.
Flying Internationally with a Warrant
Those in the middle of a trial or having a warrant issued for them are advised not to travel far from home until the issue is resolved, but there are some circumstances which may specifically prohibit them from traveling outside the US. If you already held a valid passport prior to a warrant being issued, or your arrest and appearance in court, it may be confiscated, or you could be ordered not to leave the country while still being allowed to retain your passport.
However, if you don’t hold a US passport and are about to enter a legal quagmire, can you still fly? As previously mentioned, sex offenders are eligible to apply for US passports provided they disclose their status and have their documents marked appropriately. Those under suspicion of drug trafficking may be denied outright, and those owing more than $5000 in child support should not assume their passport applications will be processed.
The issue with applying for or holding a passport when there is a warrant for your arrest is a calculation on the part of judges and the US Department of State; those in significant legal trouble might feel as though leaving the country is a better choice than facing the music (ignoring extradition). Officials calculate the risk of defendants leaving the country, and confiscate passports or bar certain types of travel accordingly. For example, an international businessman may still be allowed to leave the city or even the state, but have his passport confiscated.
In court, state and federal judges may ask a defendant to surrender his or her passport at the indictment as a condition of bail, regardless of the circumstances surrounding the arrest warrant. Any court order at any level can legally separate US citizens and their passports to ensure they won’t leave the jurisdiction, and constitutes a “a criminal court order forbidding [their] departure from the United States.”
If there is an arrest warrant issued in your name and you apply for a passport renewal or a new passport book, the same conditions apply. Form DS-11 requires that you legally state you are “not the subject of an outstanding federal, state, or local warrant of arrest for a felony.” Those who committed misdemeanors – e.g. outstanding parking tickets – can still have warrants issued, but these are less likely to cause problems for a US passport application or confronting airport security.
So, can you fly?
With the exception of international drug traffickers and those who commit certain sex crimes, those who are released from prison after a felony charge or have a warrant issued in their name can fly domestically and request a new passport, but their application will no doubt be reviewed alongside any arrest record. In addition, those on probation must wait until they finish before applying.
Do you have any other questions about traveling when you’re in legal trouble? Let us know in the comments.