Warrant Backlog Needs To Be Resolved
In the June 30 issue of the OKC Friday we wrote about an issue that significantly impacts the criminal legal landscape of Oklahoma – the staggering backlog of active warrants. With an extensive backlog of active warrants in Oklahoma County, we think it’s worth looking into the implications, and the measures being taken to address it. We hope to shed light on the complexities and potential resolutions for all those grappling with this issue directly or indirectly. We’re only beginning to delve into this issue and hope this editorial will help to explain why this is important.
There are roughly 46,000 active warrants in Oklahoma County, according to the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office. Once a warrant is issued police are required to arrest that person and take them to jail, but many warrants for low-level offenses remain in the system waiting on a chance encounter with law enforcement.
Having a warrant does not necessarily mean that someone is a threat to public safety. They are often issued because there’s unfinished business with the court. Forgetting to pay a traffic ticket in a timely manner and missing the court date would result in a warrant being issued for failure to appear. This also adds a second misdemeanor charge on top of the ticket.
It is unlikely that police would track anyone down for a low-level offense like a traffic ticket and the court has no system or process to inform people when a warrant has been issued. Many people may not even know they have a warrant.
In some states, like Indiana, warrants for certain misdemeanor offenses expire after three years. Warrants in Oklahoma never expire, creating a substantial backlog. In Oklahoma County 27,890 warrants in the system were issued before the OKC Thunder played their first game in the Ford Center in 2008 and they’re still active. Some warrants are so old that the case information isn’t even available digitally.
HB 2259, which will go into effect in November, helps by creating a new process that will limit the number of cost-related warrants, but that only accounts for a small fraction of the total warrants issued. To learn more about this issue and what to do if you have a warrant, visit www.arnallfamilyfoundation.org/warrants