Criminal Defense Blog NYC

I-Cards, Arrest Warrants, and Bench Warrants

Posted by Bruce Yerman, Esq. on January 18, 2018

I-Cards, Arrest Warrants, and Bench Warrants

If police inform you that you're named in an "arrest warrant", they might not be telling the truth. Even if they're not, you shouldn't ignore them: they probably have a legal basis to arrest you.

Suspects are often named in “i-cards”, which are issued by police, rather than warrants, which are issued by courts.

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Usually, when a person is named in a warrant, it's a bench warrant, not an arrest warrant.

However, if you're named in any one of them – i-card, bench warrant, or arrest warrant – it's a serious matter. Don't ignore the situation. Contact a criminal defense attorney ASAP.


A person is “wanted” by police when he's named in an arrest warrant, a bench warrant, or an i-card. As a group, these documents are known as "wants".

An i-card is a “want”. It's not a “warrant” because, while it may justify a legal arrest, an i-card isn’t issued by a court. Warrants can only be issued by courts.

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

Bench warrants are issued where a person is already required to appear in court. Arrest warrants bring a person to court for the first time.

Bench 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. New York City criminal courts issue hundreds of bench warrants each business day.

"7 Reasons Not to Speak with Police" [Click Here]

Arrest Warrants

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, or when a grand jury indicts a person who hasn't yet been arraigned.

Courts issue arrest warrants based on police applications relatively infrequently, because police usually don't 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 causes 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.


Rather than seek arrest warrants, police frequently create i-cards, which likewise often 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 the 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.

"Arrest Checklist" [Click Here]

I-card information is entered into an NYPD database. Digitized i-card information is used to apprehend 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 named in i-cards that they’re named in warrants. They'll notify a suspect by phone, in person, or through a family member, that they have a warrant to arrest the suspect – in fact, the suspect is the subject of an i-card, not a warrant. 

Police probably do this because: 1) warrants and i-cards are similar, but more people know what a warrant is; and 2) suspects are more likely to turn themselves out of respect for the authority of a judge-issued warrant than a police-issued i-card.

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

Bruce Yerman is a New York City criminal defense attorney. If you would like to discuss arrest or arraignment, contact Bruce for a free consultation:

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Topics: Bench Warrant, I-Card, Arrest Warrant