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What Is a Ramey Warrant?

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Oct 02, 2023

Let's review a Ramey Warrant and how it's different from a regular arrest warrant. Law enforcement cannot arrest you without a warrant unless you are arrested in a public place for probable cause, such as at a traffic stop or public disturbance.

An arrest warrant is typically executed after charges have been filed against you. However, in certain instances, the judge may issue what's known as a "Ramey Warrant" to have you arrested before official charges are filed.

Ramey Warrant in California
A Ramey Warrant could be obtained by law enforcement before formal charges are filed.

Simply put, a Ramey Warrant is an arrest warrant issued by a judge or magistrate before a prosecutor files formal criminal charges. Thus, the primary difference from a traditional arrest warrant is the timing of the warrant.

However, to get a Ramey Warrant, a police officer must submit a declaration of probable cause to a magistrate. Suppose the magistrate decides that probable cause to arrest does exist. In that case, they will issue the warrant, allowing law enforcement to locate and arrest the alleged suspect.

The term “probable cause” means enough evidence to make a reasonable person believe the suspect committed a crime. While the magistrate has to determine probable cause to arrest to issue a Ramey warrant, the process can't be used to obtain probable cause to file formal criminal charges.

This procedure allows law enforcement officers to get an arrest warrant without waiting for a prosecutor to file charges.  This type of speedy arrest could lead to a confession by the suspect or direct them to other evidence.

Police do not need an arrest warrant to arrest somebody in a public place. Let's discuss the Ramey Warrant and when it is typically issued.

Defining a Ramey Warrant

Named after the landmark California Supreme Court case "People v. Ramey," a Ramey Warrant is an arrest warrant issued directly by a judge upon request from law enforcement agencies.

This type of warrant comes into play when there's probable cause to believe an individual has committed a crime, but they have not yet been formally charged.

The defining factor between a Ramey Warrant and a conventional arrest warrant lies in its procedural route. While a regular arrest warrant involves the district attorney's office in its issuance, a Ramey Warrant bypasses this step, enabling a swifter arrest process.

What's the Difference Between a Ramey Warrant and a Standard Arrest Warrant?

Consider a typical arrest scenario to grasp better the distinction between a Ramey Warrant and a standard arrest warrant. Under normal circumstances, law enforcement gathers evidence and presents it to the district attorney, who then determines whether or not formal charges should be filed.

If the prosecution files charges, an arrest warrant is subsequently issued. An arrest warrant is required in the following circumstances:

  • To arrest someone inside a house, with some exceptions;
  • To arrest someone for a misdemeanor outside their presence;
  • To arrest someone for most offenses outside their jurisdiction.

Under California law, a judge can issue an arrest warrant when a criminal complaint is filed, or a defendant fails to appear for arraignment.

On the other hand, a Ramey Warrant allows law enforcement to approach a judge directly with their evidence. This bypasses the district attorney's involvement, making the arrest process significantly faster. The judge can issue the arrest warrant before the filing of criminal charges if police make a declaration of probable cause.

How Will a Ramey Warrant Be Issued?

Law enforcement must be able to demonstrate probable cause that the defendant has committed or is committing a crime before it can obtain a Ramey Warrant.

They will approach the judge with a declaration of probable cause detailing their arguments (along with any evidence) that probable cause exists. If the judge agrees, the court will issue a Ramey Warrant.

This declaration of probable cause must set forth the facts based on their probable cause. Regarding a Ramey Warrant, the magistrate must be satisfied with the following issues:

  • A crime has been committed; and
  • That the accused person committed it.

Suppose a suspect refuses to answer the door. California Penal Code 844 PC is the “Knock and Announce Rule” that allows a police officer with an arrest warrant to break open the door or window after demanding admittance and explaining why they are asking to be admitted inside.

Law enforcement offices could seek no-knock authorization from a magistrate if there is evidence that a knocking on the door would be dangerous or futile, result in evidence destruction, or might compromise a criminal investigation.

Suppose the police believe their suspect is in someone else's home, such as a friend or relative. Further, suppose the suspect is in a motel room, a rented room at a house, or inside a business not open to the public. In that case, they will have to obtain a search warrant, even though they already have an arrest warrant.

Notably, police officers do not need an arrest warrant if there are extreme (exigent) circumstances, such as the following:

  • An emergency situation requiring immediate action;
  • To prevent imminent danger to someone's life or property;
  • To prevent the imminent escape of an alleged suspect;
  • To prevent the destruction of evidence.

What Are Some Examples?

EXAMPLE 1: Eddie is the main suspect in a high-profile fraud investigation. He's a well-connected business magnate known for his vast resources and international ties.

How Will a Ramey Warrant Be Issued?
Police will approach a magistrate with a declaration of probable cause to get a Ramey Warrant.

While the police have probable cause to believe Eddie is involved in the fraudulent activities, they are concerned that if they approach the district attorney first, the news might leak out, allowing Eddie to use his resources to flee the country or tamper with evidence. In this case, law enforcement might request a Ramey Warrant to apprehend Eddie before he becomes aware of the investigation.

EXAMPLE 2: A local law enforcement agency is tracking escalating gang conflict in the city. Based on surveillance and witness testimony, the officers have identified one individual, Tommy, as a key instigator of the recent violent activities.

There is a strong belief that Tommy is planning a major retaliatory strike against a rival gang, which could lead to significant harm and unrest in the community. Police have probable cause to arrest

Tommy, but they are concerned that waiting for the district attorney's office to issue a formal arrest warrant could give him enough time to carry out the planned attack. In this scenario, law enforcement might request a Ramey Warrant to get Tommy off the street before additional violence occurs.

What Are the Common Reasons for Seeking a Ramey Warrant?

Law enforcement might seek a Ramey Warrant (versus waiting for the DA to file charges). These include, but are not limited to:

  • Immediacy of Action: Police may seek a Ramey Warrant when they must act swiftly to prevent a crime, apprehend a suspect, or protect a victim.
  • Preservation of Evidence: If there is a concern that evidence might be destroyed or tampered with if the suspect becomes aware of the investigation, a Ramey Warrant can be used.
  • Risk of Flight: A Ramey Warrant may be sought when there is a substantial risk that the suspect may flee before charges can be filed. For example, if law enforcement plans to arrest over the weekend when the DA's office is closed, they may seek a Ramey Warrant if they feel the suspect may flee before the office reopens.
  • Investigative Strategy: A Ramey Warrant may form part of a broader investigative strategy. For instance, arresting a key suspect before charges are filed might pressure co-conspirators, leading them to make mistakes that could provide further evidence. Alternatively, it could lead to the suspect cooperating with law enforcement, providing valuable information for the investigation.

You can contact our California criminal defense lawyers by phone or through the contact form for a case review. Eisner Gorin LLP has offices in Los Angeles, CA.

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About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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