Anyone who has watched the courtroom scene in an episode of Law and Order will remember these words:
“Bail is set at _____. Defendant will surrender his passport.”
While it should come as no surprise that those in the middle of a trial may not be allowed to travel internationally (or even outside the state), there are other legal circumstances which may prevent someone from applying for or even holding a US passport. So, can you get a passport if you have a warrant?
Being convicted of a felony can make the passport application process difficult, but not impossible. Even after having been found guilty of a sex crime, pedophiles (http://edition.cnn.com/2017/11/02/politics/us-passports-identify-child-sex-offenders/index.html) are eligible to hold US passports, provided their status as a child sex offender is noted on the document. On the other hand, convicted international drug traffickers are automatically disqualified. Financially speaking, the US government has decided that those who are delinquent in their taxes may not apply for a new passport or a renewal. Owing over $5000 in child support or certain loans is also a dealbreaker.
However, 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). Bail may be granted, while passports are not necessarily 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.
What would happen if you attempted to apply for a passport while there was a warrant out for your arrest? Of course, there is a slim chance government agencies are not talking to each other and your application goes through without a hitch (not remotely possible for federal arrest warrants). However, it’s more likely that the US Department of State will forward the address you used on your passport application form to the proper authorities so they will arrest you for the charges on the warrant, and lying on the form:
Furthermore, I have not been convicted of a federal or state drug offense or convicted of a “sex tourism” crimes statute, and I am not the subject of an outstanding federal, state, or local warrant of arrest for a felony; a criminal court order forbidding my departure from the United States; a subpoena received from the United States in a matter involving federal prosecution for, or grand jury investigation of, a felony.
With the exception of international drug traffickers and those who commit certain sex crimes, those who are released from prison after a felony charge can 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. Anyone who surrendered their passport as a condition of bail or otherwise may automatically have it returned, but will most likely have to provide a notarized letter (https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/legal-matters/surrendered-passport.html) citing personal information and the court case.
Do you have any other questions about getting a passport when you’re in legal trouble? Let us know