I-Cards, Arrest Warrants and Bench Warrants

Police frequently misinform suspects that they’re named in "arrest warrants". Most of the time, suspects are named in “i-cards”, which are issued by police, or "bench warrants", which are issued by courts.

A person is “wanted” by police when he is named in an arrest warrant, a bench warrant, or an i-card. Stated a bit differently, a person named in an arrest warrant, a bench warrant, or an i-card is the subject of a “want”.

An i-card is a “want”. It isn’t a “warrant”. Again, this is because an i-card, while often justifying a legal arrest, isn’t issued by a court.

Criminal Courts frequently issue two kinds of warrants as the basis for police to arrest people in New York City: “bench warrants” and “arrest warrants”.

Courts issue bench warrants when defendants fail to complete court-imposed obligations. For example, if a person fails to appear in court on a scheduled date, or fails to pay a fine on time, the court will issue a bench warrant. On average, New York City Criminal Courts issue hundreds of bench warrants each business day.

Courts issue arrest warrants when police officers make written applications that establish “probable cause” to believe that the person named in the warrant has committed a crime. Courts issue arrest warrants relatively infrequently, because police rarely need arrest warrants to make arrests.

Also, filing an arrest warrant in court “commences” a criminal action against the person named in the warrant. This often starts the “speedy trial clock” to start ticking against the prosecutor. Courts dismiss criminal cases when too much “speedy trial time” goes by. For this reason, prosecutors generally prefer not to seek arrest warrants.

Instead, police frequently create i-cards, which can likewise provide a lawful basis for arrest. Creating an i-card takes much less time and effort than getting an arrest warrant signed by a judge. Also, doing so doesn’t create speedy trial issues for prosecutors.

The term “i-card” is short for “investigation card”. It’s an internal notification indicating that the NYPD is looking for a “subject”. The person named in an i-card isn’t always someone who police possess probable cause to arrest. The subject might be a “person of interest” who is wanted for questioning. Whether you’re wanted for arrest or questioning, you should never speak with police.

I-card information is entered into an NYPD database. Digitized i-card information is useful for apprehending people wanted by the NYPD: i-cards inform police officers who have no personal knowledge of a case to detain the person named in the i-card.

For example, when stopping a driver for a traffic infraction, a police officer will run the driver’s name through various databases. If doing so triggers an i-card “hit”, the officer will detain the driver.

Police routinely misinform suspects that they’re named in arrest warrants. Police do this because they believe that suspects are more likely to turn themselves in when they falsely believe a judge has issued an arrest warrant. Police commonly notify suspects by phone, or through family members, that they’re named in warrants when in fact they’re named in i-cards.

Despite such deception, from a defendant’s point of view, voluntary surrender, arranged by counsel, with the defendant saying absolutely nothing to police, is virtually always the best course of action, regardless whether the basis for arrest is a warrant or an i-card.


Bruce Yerman is a New York City criminal defense attorney.

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