What Is an I Card?
I card is short for investigation card. An i card is a notification created by the New York City Police Department. It names a particular person as the subject of a police investigation.
If you're named in an i card (also spelled icard or i-card), you're wanted by the police.
The subject of an i card could be: 1) a person who police want to arrest; or 2) a “person of interest” who police want to question, either as a suspect or as a witness.
How Do Police Use I Cards?
I card information is entered into an NYPD database. Digital 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.
If I'm the Subject of an I Card, Should I Speak to Police?
Whether you’re wanted for arrest or questioning, you should never speak to the police.
Is an I Card a Warrant?
An i card is not a warrant.
There are two types of warrants that are often confused with i cards: 1) arrest warrants; and 2) bench warrants.
While police officers may issue i cards, only judges may issue warrants.
However, like a warrant, an i card can provide a valid basis for police to arrest you.
What Is an Arrest Warrant?
An NYC arrest warrant is a court order directing police to arrest the person named in the warrant, based on probable cause to believe that the person committed a crime.
Probable cause can be established based on written affidavits signed by police officers and other witnesses, or based on an indictment issued by a grand jury (which is based on sworn witness testimony).
Courts infrequently issue arrest warrants based on affidavits because police usually don't need an arrest warrant to make an arrest.
Also, filing an arrest warrant in court “commences” a criminal action against the person named in the warrant. This usually causes the “speedy trial clock” to start ticking. Courts dismiss criminal cases when too much “speedy trial time” goes by. For this reason, prosecutors generally prefer not to seek arrest warrants.
What Is a Bench Warrant?
A bench warrant is a court order directing police to arrest a person who has failed to complete a court-imposed obligation.
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 dozens of bench warrants each business day.
Is an I Card Worse than a Warrant?
As a practical matter, being the subject of an i card has the same significance as being the subject of an arrest warrant.
If you're the subject of either, you've got the same problem: you're going to be arrested. You should consult a criminal defense attorney immediately.
If you're the subject of an i card, police most likely believe they have a lawful basis to arrest you.
If you're the subject of an arrest warrant, police believe they have a lawful basis to arrest you, and a judge agrees with them.
Do Police Refer to I Cards as Warrants?
Police routinely misinform suspects named in i cards that they’re named in a warrant. Police will notify a suspect by phone, in person, or through family members, that they have a warrant to arrest the suspect, when 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.
Either way, police have a basis to arrest you. You shouldn't ignore them when they tell you that they do.
What does Wanted Mean?
A person is wanted when police want to arrest him: he's named in an arrest warrant, a bench warrant, or an i card. As a group, these documents are known as wants.
While an i card is a “want”. It's not a “warrant” because, while it may justify a legal arrest, an i card isn’t signed by a judge. Warrants must be signed by judges.
How Do I Know If I'm Named in an I Card?
If you believe you're the subject of an i card, a lawyer can contact relevant precincts on your behalf, to find out about it. You could do this yourself, but you shouldn't, because doing so would require you to speak to the police – something you should never do.
You might learn that you're the subject of an i card in a number of ways:
- When police pull you over for a traffic infraction, the officer tells you an i card appeared when he ran your license.
- A detective calls and invites you to the precinct to answer some questions.
- A detective calls and asks you to go to the precinct to be arrested.
- Police come to your house while you're there, or your job while you're at work.
- Your family member, your roommate, or a neighbor tells you that police stopped by looking for you.
- You learn that someone filed a police report against you.
There is no central number you can call to find out if you're the subject of an i card.
Can I Avoid Getting Arrested If I'm Named in an I Card?
If police intend to arrest you based on an i card, there's usually nothing you can do to prevent the arrest from happening.
Two rare exceptions:
- You have an ironclad alibi. For example, you're accused of picking someone's pocket in Times Square at midnight on New Year's Eve: you can prove that you were in jail (or a hospital, or Australia) at midnight on New Year's Eve.
- You possess videotape that proves your accuser is mistaken or lying.
If you believe you might be able to establish your innocence to avoid getting arrested as the subject of an i card, you're probably wrong.
What Should I Do If I have an I Card?
If you find out that you have an i card, contact a criminal defense attorney immediately.
Your lawyer will:
- Contact the police.
- Notify police that you're represented by counsel. (By law, police may not ask you questions when they know you have a lawyer.)
- Find out why police are looking for you.
- If police intend to arrest you, arrange your voluntary surrender.
- Try to arrange a desk appearance ticket rather than a full-blown arrest.
- Appear in court with you at "arraignment" (the first court appearance after arrest, where you plead not guilty).
- Prepare to have someone post bail at your arraignment.
If an i card has your name on it, the situation won't go away until you're arrested.
Once you're arrested, the police will stop looking for you, and you can resolve the accusation in court.
Should I Call the Police Myself If I Have an I Card?
Never speak to the police if you have an i card. The risk is too great:
- You will "incriminate" yourself (say something that could be used as evidence against you); or
- Police will falsely claim you incriminated yourself.
Don't contact the police yourself. Hire a lawyer to contact the police for you.
If you can't afford a lawyer, contact The Legal Aid Society or another provider of free defense services for help.
What Will Happen When I Surrender on an I Card?
When you surrender on an i card, you will go through the standard arrest process:
- Police will arrest you.
- Police will fingerprint you.
- Police will photograph you.
- Police might try to question you (unless your lawyer has contacted them, or you demand a lawyer).
- Police might place you in a lineup.
- Police might give you a "desk appearance ticket" (a "DAT") directing you to show up in court on a certain date, or
- If you don't receive a DAT, police will transfer you from a local precinct to "Central Booking" (a holding area where you will wait for the District Attorney to file paperwork in court).
- You will plead "not guilty" in court at your "arraignment", and a judge will determine whether to set bail on you.
Criminal defense attorney Bruce Yerman has over 26 years of experience defending clients in New York City.
For a free consultation, call 212-390-0036, or complete this short form: