Program Review and Investigations Committee



<MeetMDY1> June 9, 2005


The<MeetNo2> June 9, 2005 meeting of the Program Review and Investigations Committee was held <Day>at<MeetTime> 1:30 PM, in<Room> Covington. Representative Tommy Thompson, Chairman, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.


Present were:


Members:<Members> Senator Ernie Harris, Co-Chair; Representative Tommy Thompson, Co-Chair; Senators Brett Guthrie, Joey Pendleton, Dan Seum, and Katie Stine; Representatives Dwight D. Butler, Charlie Hoffman, and Ruth Ann Palumbo.




LRC Staff:  Greg Hager, Committee Staff Administrator; Kara Daniel; Rick Graycarek; Jim Guinn; Tom Hewlett; Margaret Hurst; Van Knowles; Erin McNees; John Foster; and Susan Spoonamore, Committee Assistant.


Minutes of the May 12, 2005 meeting were approved, without objection, by voice vote upon motion made by Sen. Pendleton and seconded by Sen. Guthrie.


Kara Daniel, Program Review staff,  presented the report Improved Coordination and Information Could Reduce the Backlog of Unserved Warrants.


Ms. Daniel stated that the main study objectives were to determine the magnitude of the problem of unserved warrants, describe the current arrest warrant process, and describe the use of information systems to track warrants.


Ms. Daniel said that there were an estimated 265,000 to 385,000 unserved arrest warrants in Kentucky. She explained that the estimate includes the three types of criminal warrants discussed in the report: complaint warrants, bench warrants, and indictment warrants. She stated that after a warrant is issued, it remains active indefinitely until it is served by arresting the wanted person or it is recalled by a judge.


Ms. Daniel stated because there is no comprehensive, statewide database of warrant information, and the different types of warrants are processed differently, staff had to gather information from several sources. She said the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) provided data on bench and indictment warrants issued statewide and data on Jefferson County’s complaint warrants. She stated staff also obtained data on complaint warrants from six other counties: Fayette, Franklin, Grayson, Jackson, Kenton, and Madison. She said that there are more unserved bench warrants in the state than any other type of warrant. She also stated that the backlog of unserved bench and indictment warrants was worsening and had increased by approximately 28,000 per year over the last three years. She summarized five recommendations from the report intended to reduce the number of bench warrants issued.


            Ms. Daniel stated that data were analyzed to determine the severity of the underlying crimes associated with the unserved warrants. She said that, among bench and indictment warrants 16 percent of felony warrants were unserved, but 30 percent of misdemeanor warrants were unserved. She said that among the complaint warrants for the seven counties studied, the largest category of unserved warrants was misdemeanors in every county except Jefferson.


            She stated that among all the unserved warrants, theft by deception was one of the most common crimes. She explained that theft by deception is typically committed by presenting a bad check that is written on a closed account or an account with insufficient funds. She stated that the large number of warrants for theft by deception creates a relatively large burden on the judicial system. She summarized two recommendations intended to reduce the number of bad check warrants.


            Ms. Daniel stated that warrants' longevity was another factor contributing to the backlog of unserved warrants. She explained that arrest warrants have no statute of limitations or expiration date and can linger unserved indefinitely. She said that a warrant becomes less likely to be served as it ages and that when an older warrant is served, the case may be dismissed due to lack of evidence. She summarized one recommendation to address this issue.


            Ms. Daniel stated the warrant process suffers from systemic problems as well. She said the current warrant system lacks coordination because it requires the cooperation of multiple agencies in two branches of government. She stated that there is no statewide system of issuing, tracking, and serving of most warrants, and each county uses different criteria in processing warrants. She explained that there is no single agency responsible for tracking and serving warrants. She summarized one recommendation to assign responsibility to an independent organization to ensure statewide collaboration and improvement in the serving of warrants.


            She stated that the databases that do exist contain only a portion of the warrants that are issued and that counties have devised their own methods to track warrants, with varying success. She said that because there is no statewide database of warrant information, most unserved warrants are accessible only in the county in which they were issued. 


            She also explained that the lack of available information means that wanted persons may have several types of interactions with government agencies without ever being arrested. She explained that a wanted person could renew a driver’s license, renew a car registration, get a hunting license, receive public assistance, collect unemployment, go to court on another case, buy a gun, get a traffic ticket, and possibly even go to jail on other charges and be released, all without a warrant being served.


She said that a statewide warrant system that tracked all warrants of all types would make better oversight and accountability possible. Problems could be pinpointed and solved more easily at the state and local levels. Law enforcement agencies’ performance could be evaluated and performance goals could be set. She stated that a pilot project for a limited electronic warrant system is planned for Clark and Woodford Counties to handle complaint warrants that have the required identifying information and that are for more serious crimes. She summarized seven recommendations addressing warrant tracking and five recommendations about the electronic warrant project.


Ms. Daniel explained that different law enforcement agencies serve warrants in each county according to their independent policies and procedures and that some have tried innovative approaches. She stated that there is little information available to evaluate law enforcement agencies' performance at serving warrants, but that staff had used the data it obtained to estimate the time it takes each county's law enforcement agencies to serve bench and indictment warrants. She stated the Kentucky average was 674 days to serve 75 percent of warrants issued at any given time. The fastest five counties could serve 75 percent in 123 days; and the slowest five counties would not serve 75 percent within the next five years. She said the data also showed that the median days it takes to serve a warrant is shorter for more serious crimes and longer for less serious crimes. She summarized six recommendations intended to facilitate service of warrants by law enforcement.


Chairman Thompson explained to the Committee that the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, and the Commonwealth Office of Technology would be responding to the report at the July 14th meeting. 


Sen. Harris asked if bench warrants were used for administrative purposes.


Ms. Daniel stated that a bench warrant was a type of arrest warrant. She said that it is within a judge's discretion when to issue them. As an example, she said that a bench warrant could be issued for failure to appear in court. She said that a criminal summons is used to provide notice of a pending court date, but the named person is not taken into custody.


Sen. Harris asked if indictment warrants were more serious in nature than bench warrants.


Ms. Daniel stated that was correct. She stated that the bulk of unserved warrants, except for Jefferson County, were misdemeanor warrants.


Sen. Harris asked if it was standard procedure for law enforcement to try at least three times to serve a warrant.


Ms. Daniel stated that it varied from county to county. 


Sen. Seum asked if all indictment warrants were felonies.


Ms. Daniel stated that was correct.


Sen. Seum asked if the 16 percent of felony warrants not served equaled 50,000 outstanding felony warrants on a statewide basis, not 5,000 to 7,000.


Van Knowles, Program Review staff, stated that staff determined from the data collected, the  total number of  outstanding warrants was between 265,000 to 385,000. He stated that existing data indicated that 16 percent of the felony warrants issued remained unserved.


Sen. Seum stated that not all felony warrants consisted of violent acts. He noted that a person writing a cold check for a certain amount could be charged with a felony.


Mr. Knowles stated that a number of the cases that come before the District Court with felony charges can result in bench warrants being issued.


Sen. Seum asked staff to provide more information at the July meeting clarifying the number of outstanding felony warrants.   


Mr. Knowles stated that according to the numbers taken from CourtNet, the approximate number of outstanding felony bench and indictment warrants was 24,500. 


Sen. Seum asked if the percentage of unserved felony warrants in Jefferson County was approximately 25 percent.


Mr. Knowles stated that it would be close to 25 percent, including all the complaint, bench, and indictment warrants.


Sen. Seum asked if the number of outstanding felony warrants in Jefferson County amounted to about 10,000 unserved warrants.


Mr. Knowles stated that staff determined the number of unserved felony warrants in Jefferson County to be approximately 9,464.


Rep. Hoffman asked if staff was able to determine whether or not reminder notices sent to defendants notifying them of a pending court date made a difference in the number of bench warrants being issued. 


Ms. Daniel stated that it is unknown if the reminder policies used in some Kentucky jurisdictions are effective, but localities in other states have reported significant improvement after they started using automated reminder systems. She stated that the report contains a recommendation encouraging the AOC to evaluate the reminder policies in place.


Rep. Hoffman asked how long it had been since any of the forms had been updated.


Ms. Daniel stated that the forms show a revision date of April, 2001, but she was not sure if that date was the most recent revision date.


Rep. Hoffman stated that it might be good to revise the forms to include a secondary address and maybe even a secondary alias. 


Sen. Stine asked if staff had interviewed law enforcement officials in those counties where warrants were not being served, as well as in other counties, to determine why they were not performing as well.


Ms. Daniel stated that staff had not talked to law enforcement in any of those particular counties.


Sen. Stine recommended that staff send a copy of the report, along with a letter of inquiry, to those counties that failed to serve warrants in a timely manner.


Rep. Palumbo asked if most of the bench warrants were for habitual offenders who were in contempt of court.


Ms. Daniel stated that staff did not having the identifying information for the warrants, but that may be the case for some of them.


Rep. Palumbo asked if constables were allowed to serve warrants.


Ms. Daniel stated that they do in some counties.


Rep. Palumbo asked how many counties use constables to serve warrants.


Ms Daniel stated that she did not know and that it varied from county to county. 


Rep. Palumbo asked what other circumstances, besides a traffic stop, would be considered a random encounter.


Mr. Knowles stated that anytime police are called to an incident they have the opportunity to check for outstanding warrants.


Rep. Palumbo asked if law enforcement could arrest a person on an outstanding warrant if they were investigating a domestic violence dispute and discovered that one of the persons had an outstanding warrant.


Ms. Daniel stated that if law enforcement officials were able to confirm that the warrant was still active, then they could arrest that person. 


Rep. Butler asked staff to explain the recall process.


Ms. Daniel explained that warrants could be recalled for any number of reasons.  A felony warrant could be recalled because the person had hired an attorney and the attorney asked that the warrant be recalled. Some courts have a policy that if a bench warrant was issued for unpaid fines, and that person voluntarily pays their fine, then the warrant will be recalled.


Rep. Butler asked if there was a time limit for serving a warrant between the date of issuance and the date of recall. 


Mr. Knowles stated that staff did not look for that information.


Rep. Butler said it would be interesting to see if the time lapse between the date of the warrant and recall of the warrant would affect the numbers. 


Sen. Seum asked if judges purged outstanding warrants on a timely basis, or was there a process for destroying outstanding warrants.


Ms. Daniel stated that there was not a regular schedule for reviewing and purging warrants.


Sen. Seum stated that he would like to know the criteria for purging warrants, but he would wait to ask more questions at the July meeting.


Rep. Thompson asked if any of the seven counties appeared to be more efficient at processing warrants.


Ms. Daniel stated that Kenton County, which uses an electronic database, had a very good, coordinated system. She noted the different agencies involved had good communication and good working relationships.


Sen. Harris asked if most warrants were served by the sheriff’s office.


Ms. Daniel stated that out of the seven counties they interviewed, it appeared that two of the counties used the sheriff’s office exclusively for serving warrants.


Sen. Harris stated that he would like for the AOC to clarify what agencies can serve warrants.   


Sen. Harris asked what criteria was used for determining whether or not to issue a summons or a warrant. He also asked if a warrant could be issued before going through any notification process.


Ms. Daniel stated that the process for collecting a bad check was different in that a person had to be notified in writing and given 10 days to make restitution before a summons or warrant could be issued. She said that the process was different for other types of crimes. For example, she stated that a warrant could be issued immediately if a complaining witness alleged illegal wrongdoing by an individual. She stated that the facts of the situation and the particular procedures in the county would determine whether or not a warrant or a summons would be issued.


Rep. Palumbo asked if it would help to free up the court system if the collection of bad checks were turned over to collection agencies.


Ms. Daniel stated that it would reduce the number of bad check warrants.


Sen. Seum asked if a bench warrant was usually a contempt warrant.


Ms. Daniel stated that was correct.


Sen. Seum stated that in his opinion, a bench warrant indicated that it was a person who simply decided to ignore the system.


 Rep. Thompson referred committee members to a memorandum, prepared by staff, dealing with questions that committee members had asked at the May meeting.


Rep. Thompson asked if Rep. Butler’s questions from the last meeting were being addressed by staff.


Dr. Hager stated that those questions were being handled through the LRC Staff Economists.


Rep. Thompson stated that he and Sen. Harris were in the process of reviewing the list of suggested study topics and would have comments later.


Rep. Thompson stated that the meeting would be adjourned upon conclusion of the tour of the Kenton County Circuit Court Clerk's office.


Meeting adjourned at 2:55 p.m.