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I went to Florida on family holiday, and at Disney World my little boy hid some toys under his pram, and I walked out the store not knowing he had hid stuff under there. Basically I got arrested and got bailed out by my partner. I had to attend court 2 days later, but before I could make it to court our holiday was over and we returned to the UK. Now I think there's a warrant for my arrest.

This was 2 years ago, and we want to go back there again for a family holiday. Since that time my partner and I got married, and I changed my name to his so my passport is new and has my married name on it. I was just wondering if I go back will they know it's me now that I've got a new passport.

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    Honestly, I'd steer well clear of any countries where you think there may be a warrant for your arrest and you have absconded. – CMaster Apr 21 '16 at 16:13
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    For future reference, when you are arrested for something and are told to attend court, it is not usually optional. – Harry Vervet Apr 21 '16 at 16:13
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    Maybe consult a Florida attorney remotely? They may be able to find out about warrants, and also see whether you can clear any warrant remotely by apologizing and paying fines and court fees. – Patricia Shanahan Apr 21 '16 at 17:41
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    @MartinaJohnnyKeenan In the event they don't knnow you by your passport and grant you an ESTA - they take your fingerprints on entry to the US. They will be able to catch up with you. Also, A)that's the sort of thing that travel insurance is for and B) you should have realised that you were risking never being able to return when you became a fugitive. – CMaster Apr 21 '16 at 18:37
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    @MartinaJohnnyKeenan What you are currently proposing is risking being imprisoned in a foreign country for the sake of a family holiday, on the chance that the authorities there can't figure out how marriage works. This is pretty crazy risk judgement. I strongly recommend that you take steps to know if there is an outstanding warrant or similar before you event attempt travelling. – CMaster Apr 21 '16 at 18:51
40

Although it doesn't entirley answer your question, I am posting this as answer because I don't think you appreciate the risks involved here.

Your proposition is to travel to a foreign country and risk imprisonment there, for the sake of a family holiday. Your hope for avoiding these consequences is that they will not recognise you based off the fact that your surname has changed.

Aside from the relative severity of the consequences, it's worth pointing out that there are numerous ways that you could be caught. Every time I have entered the US, I have given finger prints. If your finger prints were also taken at the time of your arrest, they could be matched. The UK and the USA are both part of the Five Eyes intelligence sharing group, and frequently give each other considerable access to each other's information. If the UK government is able to know you are the same person after your name change, the US government is likley also able to do so. Sharing the numbers of all previous passports issued to the holder of a current one would be a trivial and reasonable thing to do.

As such I can see two options that avoid the risk (although not certainty) of imprisonment in the United States for you:

  • Do not travel to the United States of America in future. There are at least 194 other countries in the world you can visit for your holiday.
  • Undertake proper research (probably involving a Florida lawyer) to determine if there are any organisations seeking your arrest. If so, attempt to resolve these issues before travelling, or wait until any statue of limitations has passed (if not, you can probably try travelling). If you want to get started without a Lawyer, you can look for yourself in the Florida wanted persons database and the Florida criminal records database. It's worth noting that the state of Florida may have given up caring about you long ago. Or your name might be on a list of "arrest on sight" fugitives. It's hard to know.
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    The OP needs to immediately pick up a phone and talk to a legal expert in the relevant town. It's "just that simple". The cost will be minimal. – Fattie Apr 21 '16 at 21:33
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    @MrLore it's practically unheard of for an international extradition to occur over a misdemeanor charge. It's exceptionally unlikely her case is even still active in Florida, and there's no chance anyone would go to the expense of an international extradition over this... it's even unlikely they'd bother to extradite her from a different (US) state. The only way anything could possibly of this is if she decides to visit Florida again, for some silly reason. – HopelessN00b Apr 21 '16 at 22:39
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    @mrlore Extradition is a lot of work and expense, and the OP is a citizen and resident of a country with such a treaty, and no attempt has been made. It's a minor charge that probably is largley forgotten (and probably doesn't count as extradition worthy under most of those treaties). The chance of being extradited seems effectivley nil. – CMaster Apr 21 '16 at 23:17
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    hi @HopelessN00b. For such a trivial charge, in Florida (for goodness sake) I'm totally confident the local run of the mill court chaser would advise her properly. in the incredible case that she needs Federal, or whatever, attention, that attorney would advise that. The situation is extremely simple, OP should pick up telephone and call a local attorney there. It would all take literally 1/50th? the human manpower so far expent on this QA – Fattie Apr 21 '16 at 23:36
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    @JoeBlow People have been denied entry and/or naturalization to the US on far older, pettier crimes. To aggravate her actual crime, she absconded and failed to show up in court. The US Border Control and Immigration Services is well within their rights to deny her entry, and ban her from re-entry for up to 10 (?) additional years. It has done so in the past for similarly minor offenses, and it's a definite possibility. (For that matter, even a dismissed case or arrest can cause the same effect, as can just being under suspicion or surveillance. Immigration law is harsh and cruel.) – HopelessN00b Apr 21 '16 at 23:46
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While I agree with all the advice that it's both foolish to risk incarceration in a foreign country for the sake a family vacation (in quite an over-rated spot, at that) and that showing up in court in response to a summons is not considered an optional activity, you can check fairly easily on whether or not you have any active warrants in Florida.

The statewide database is accessible here, and of course, it comes with a bunch of disclaimers about the information potentially being inaccurate, out-of-date or incomplete. Orange County (the county in which Disney World resides, and presumably where you absconded form) has a couple similar resources, one through the County Sherrif's Office and through the Orange County Clerk of Courts Office. The same disclaimers apply to those sites as well, though you should be able to check on the disposition of your criminal case through the Clerk of Courts site. It's not unheard of for old, unresolved cases for minor offenses to be dismissed or dropped completely after a period of time. It's not likely, but it could happen.

Of particular interest to you ought to be the following phrase from the Sheriff's Office link - Orange County outstanding warrants do not lose their validity. They still allow any law enforcement agent to arrest a person at any given moment.

From experience, I can tell you two things with almost 100% certainty.

  1. A "bench warrant" (a warrant issued by a judge) was issued for you when you failed to appear in court. It gives any Florida law enforcement officer the right and obligation to arrest you.

  2. That warrant does not expire. There is no "statute of limitations" because you were already arrested and charged with a crime. That warrant will remain valid until the day you die, are arrested under it, or dispose of it through the court system.

So, if you return to Florida without first disposing of the warrant and case through the courts, you'll be subject to arrest and imprisonment for the crime you were charged with and absconded on, in addition to a charge for failing to appear in court. Period.

You do have a number of factors in your favor as far as mitigating the risk of this actually happening, however. Your name has changed, and the warrant was issued under your maiden name, so a casual check won't pull up the warrant. The crime is minor (a misdemeanor, based on what you've said), so it's highly improbably to have made it into the federal system. And it's an older offense, so the warrant will be inactive by now (not actively circulated or actively pursued). All that means that the chances of you being denied entry or arrested upon entry to the US are practically nonexistent, and there's about no chance of there being anyone in Florida actively looking to serve the warrant on you.

Of course, old, inactive warrants are still valid, and still in the system, so if anything happens that causes a law enforcement agent to take a deeper look at you, it would not be difficult at all for them to pull up your warrant. The warrant undoubtedly contains your basic description and biographical details, and fact that you took your husband's last name, with whom you're travelling, no less, won't fool anyone who's actually looking. That means that if you get pulled over for a traffic violation, get injured and end up in the hospital, or even just happen to rub some bored cop the wrong way, there's a substantial risk that the warrant will be discovered and executed. For that matter, police departments routinely revisit old warrants and crimes on a regular basis (political pressure, poor crime-solve numbers for the month, etc.), so it's not like this is something that will just go away if you ignore it long enough.

If you want to risk arrest and imprisonment for the sake of a family vacation, that's on you. It's not a particularly large risk, but it's a real one. The more prudent approach would be to avoid Florida in particular, and the US in general, until after you dispose of the warrant. I'd advise that you contact the Orange County Clerk of Courts about the case and inquire about the possibility of disposing of the case and the warrant in absentia, which you'd do by paying fines and court costs, at a minimum. They may be willing to dismiss the case entirely in exchange for payment of some fines, they may require you to plead guilty or "no contest". If the latter, get legal advice on the consequences of a criminal conviction, even a misdemeanor one, on future entry to the US and your life in the UK - it's likely to have an impact on both.

The US is a huge place, with a lot of incredible, world-class destinations, not to mention the Caribbean, or everywhere else in the world that isn't Florida. Sounds like a lot of effort for Florida to me, but to each, her own.

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    jst as hopeless says, you can extremely simply pick up the phone and call the Court in question for goodness sake. they won't bite your head off. – Fattie Apr 21 '16 at 23:38
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    I was confused for a moment, thinking you had the California and Florida Disney parks mixed up, but it seems both of them are in a county called Orange. Funny coincidence. – Belle-Sophie Apr 22 '16 at 0:11
  • Ebat of I went to a different state of USA xx – Martina Johnny Keenan Apr 22 '16 at 7:16
  • @J.Constantine Probably because both are in warm climates where lots of oranges are grown. :) That said, Disney World is mostly in Orange County, but also includes some property (Southern edge of Animal Kingdom and the All-Star Resorts) in Osceola County. It may also have a bit of land in Lake and/or Polk county, but I'm not sure about that. The main part of all of the parks are in Orange County, though. – reirab Apr 22 '16 at 14:49
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    +1 However, while I agree to some extent that it's a lot of effort for just Florida, having an outstanding warrant in general seems like something that could come back to bite you later. Seems like the advice to call an attorney in FL and see what it would take to get this cleared up is probably a good idea. – reirab Apr 22 '16 at 14:56
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I am just going to answer the specific question "will they know it's me now that I've got a new passport". That question has got somewhat buried in discussion of the probability of negative consequences if they do know, and ways of mitigating those consequences.

The USCIS has the information you supplied on your last visit. You will presumably complete an ESTA for any future visit. Those applications will match on all the personal information except surname and passport number.

Which of the following do you think they consider more probable?

  1. Two distinct individuals have the same given name, same parents' names, same place and date of birth.
  2. A woman living in the UK changes her surname, and gets a new passport with the new name.

I think it is overwhelmingly probable that they pick the second option, linking the new application to your previous visit, so the answer to "Will they know it is me?" is probably "Yes".

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    My passport does not contain any information about my parents, do some others do? Or does the ESTA form ask for this? Given name + date + place of birth matches must be reasonably common, especially for larger cities. – Relaxed Apr 22 '16 at 9:29
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    @Relaxed The ESTA form asks for your parents' names. – Patricia Shanahan Apr 22 '16 at 9:53
  • @PatriciaShanahan Additionally, the U.K. and U.S. share lots of information. It's quite likely they'd find out directly from the U.K. about the name change and prior passport numbers directly from the U.K. government upon applying for the ESTA. – reirab Apr 22 '16 at 14:53
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    @reirab Between ESTA questions, information sharing, and biometrics I don't see much chance of them not connecting the two sets of records. I focused on the ESTA because that is directly visible to the OP. – Patricia Shanahan Apr 22 '16 at 15:52
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In addition to the issue of the potential arrest warrant, which has been extensively covered in other answers, there is another issue to consider. The UK is part of the US's Visa Waiver Program. This allows visa-free travel and requires you to complete an online form and declaration, and pay a small fee. It is the usual way for a UK citizen to travel to the US for leisure.

However, in order to be eligible, one of the requirements is that you "Must never have been convicted of, or arrested for, an offense or crime involving moral turpitude". A crime involving moral turpitude involves "conduct that is considered contrary to community standards of justice, honesty or good morals". See this excerpt from Wikipedia (emphasis mine):

Little guidance is provided to the traveler as to which offenses are included in the definition; however the Web site of the U.S. embassy in London states that:

Travelers who have been arrested, even if the arrest did not result in a criminal conviction, those with criminal records, (the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act does not apply to U.S. visa law), certain serious communicable illnesses, those who have been refused admission into, or have been deported from, the United States, or have previously overstayed on the VWP are not eligible to travel visa free under the Visa Waiver Program.

So, even if there is no outstanding arrest warrant, you will not be able to apply for the visa waiver without lying on the form. You could then be turned back at the US airport if they still have (and check) the records of your original arrest.

People who are not eligible for the visa waiver are supposed to apply for a tourism visa at the US embassy. You will be faced with the same issue there, but at least you will be more likely to be denied entry while you are still in the UK, instead of upon arrival in the US (at which point you've already wasted your money and time).

Note that this is a separate issue to whether or not there is a current arrest warrant. Do not assume that just because you are granted a visa, that you are not at risk. You should still follow the advice of the other answers here.

4

I am surprised that no one mentioned the fact that you could be in contempt of court and that an arrest warrant could be a sealed arrest warrant (that is, you won't discover there is an outstanding warrant against you until it's too late). An arrest warrant is usually NOT published or posted online. It is kept secret so that the police can arrest you with the advantage of you not knowing.

And what if they ask you at the border whether there are any pending charges against you? Do you lie or says yes?

Keep in mind too that authorities keep diligent records of name changes after marriage because they are common.

Maybe the shoplifting issue was not a big deal, and could have been solved back then paying a fine. But now your legal situation is much more serious.

Bottom-line: you'll need to consult with a lawyer to be sure about your legal standing. I perfunctory web-search at sites named warrants4u or similar won't clear things up. Do not try your luck traveling there.

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    Florida has kinda different rules to a lot of places. They probably do make arrest warrants public. – CMaster Apr 22 '16 at 0:50
  • Thank use very much for the advice but it was just a simple question just to make sure and I really enjoyed Florida and my child loved it as well so that's why I wanna go back and what about if I go to a different state of us xx – Martina Johnny Keenan Apr 22 '16 at 7:14
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    @MartinaJohnnyKeenan personally, I would avoid going to the united states at all until that warrant is resolved. Do that first, then vacation in the US. If you ever came in contact with law enforcement through, say, a traffic stop in any state, they will see the warrant for your arrest and might jail you right then and there. – d0nut Apr 22 '16 at 13:59
  • It is not contempt of court since the person never appeared in court; what is issued is a bench warrant. – Burhan Khalid Apr 24 '16 at 4:51
  • @BurhanKhalid: a bench warrant is the result of contempt of court. It is not very different from an arrest warrant. When a person commits contempt of court—failing to appear for a scheduled court, for example—a judge may issue a bench warrant as a form of punishment. Not to appear in court is contempt of it. – Quora Feans Apr 26 '16 at 17:32
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Your best advice in this situation is to speak to a local lawyer in Florida. The lawyer will be able to inform you of the risks of visiting the state, as well as the options of settling the misdemeanor charge currently set against you. If it's truly a minor misdemeanor, you might be able to send a written affidavit to Florida and have the lawyer argue the case instead of you. If it's actually bigger than that, you might want to cancel any future visits to the United States.

Now, in real life, systems frequently don't work as well as they do in the minds of politicians. It's highly likely nobody will notice you're the same person or nobody will bother checking you're the same person, since local law enforcement is separate from border control in the United States. If you're willing to take the risk of spending a couple of weeks in jail without bail, there's nothing stopping you from going.

1

All degrees of theft carry some form of jail sentence and a fine; these range from 60 days and $500 all the way to 30 years and $10,000 - it depends entirely on what you are charged with; which correlates directly with the value of the item.

So, the very first thing you have to do is find out what exactly is the charge against you; in other words - what specific crime were you charged with. This will also let you know what legal options you have.

You can simply call the court clerk (look at the summons that you got for the court name) and ask for any outstanding warrants under your name.

Unfortunately as all theft crimes in the State of Florida carry a jail sentence, you'll have to hire an attorney to resolve the issue - lest you end up being arrested to spend time in jail.

In addition as per FL Statutes §812.014, your fingerprints will be taken in a court in front of a judge and become part of your arrest record; so further travel under the VWP is most likely not an option for you.

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    While all degrees of theft in Florida may provide for a jail sentence, that doesn't mean everyone convicted (or pleading guilty to theft) actually is sentenced to jail. That said, hiring a Florida attorney is the first step to resolving the issue in such a way that you do not actually spend time in jail. – Zach Lipton Apr 24 '16 at 5:27

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