Can You Get a Passport if You Have a Warrant?

By Teo Spengler

Dealing with challenges when you are applying for a passport

Can You Get a Passport if You Have a Warrant?

Applying for a passport takes patience and diligence. Just getting a photo that meets all the requirements is a challenge, and the passport will cost you a pretty penny. Is it worth your time, money and energy to jump through the passport hoops if you have an outstanding warrant? Will your application automatically be denied? That depends entirely on the type of warrant involved.

Passport application blues

In order to get a U.S. passport, you must submit a written application, a photo, and original documents that establish your identity and the fact that you are a U.S. citizen. You'll also have to pay the passport fees.

This sounds easier than it is. For the photo alone, the State Department regulations have a long list of rules forbidding hats, head coverings, sunglasses, regular glasses, headphones or earphones. Your head must face forward, you must have a "neutral" facial expression and you must wear every-day clothing.

The State Department is equally picky about how to establish your identity and citizenship. Preparing the correct documents to submit is more than half the effort in getting the passport.

Warrants, big and small

Will your passport application automatically be denied if you have an outstanding warrant? The answer is: it depends.

A warrant is a court order authorizing the police to take some action. But all warrants are not alike. You can have a bench warrant issued against you for failure to appear for jury duty. Or you can have a felony arrest warrant issued against you for murder.

Some warrants justify the State Department to refuse to issue you a passport. But not every warrant.

Court orders that nix a passport

Fortunately, federal law tells you exactly what warrants can impact your right to get a passport. Title 22 states that the State Department can refuse to issue you a passport if it has reason to believe that:

  1. You are subject to a criminal court order that forbids you from leaving the United States, or
  2. You are the subject of an outstanding federal arrest warrant for a felony, or
  3. You are the subject of a state or local warrant of arrest for a felony.

So if your warrant involves either a court order forbidding your departure from the country or a felony arrest warrant, it may not be worth your while to apply for a passport. Note that the law does not include a warrant from a foreign nation.

Felony arrest warrants

If you are caught committing a crime, police handcuff and arrest you. If the police suspect you committed a crime, court permission is required to detain you. A judge gives this permission by issuing a felony warrant. To get the warrant, law enforcement must show probable cause that a felony was committed and that you committed it.

Once issued, felony arrest warrants remain in effect until the police arrest you or the court revokes the warrant. They can be served (and you can be arrested) in any state or jurisdiction. Each state makes its own determination about which crimes are felonies and which are the less serious misdemeanors, so if your warrant was for something less than a felony, go ahead and take that passport photo.

About the Author

Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Spengler splits her time between French Basque Country and California.