For roughly every 48 people in Spokane County, there’s an active arrest warrant filed at the courthouse.
The bulk of these warrants – a total of 10,263, per Spokane County court records – are for failure to appear in court on a misdemeanor charge, including drunken driving and fourth-degree domestic violence.
In municipal court alone, 3,238 of the 3,581 active misdemeanor warrants are for alleged criminals skipping their appointed day before a judge.
And these numbers aren’t the result of decades of accumulation, either.
Every 10 years, in accordance with Washington state law, unresolved misdemeanor warrants are dropped, said Spokane Municipal Court Administrator Howard Delaney.
“Just having 30,000 warrants out there for no particular reason clogs the system and causes a problem,” Delaney said. “We try to only issue warrants if really have to.
“The object is not to toss you in jail,” he added. “We want you to take care of it.”
There’s no escaping a felony warrant, though, unless it’s in a pine box or a new and reclusive identity overseas.
According to Spokane County Superior Courts Administrator Ashley Callen, the county has nearly 3,000 active felony warrants, ranging from possession of a controlled substance to first-degree murder.
These don’t dissolve after a decade, especially felony warrants alleging violent or sexual crimes, according to Spokane County Deputy Prosecutor Jack Driscoll.
In a database search dating back to 1970, the oldest felony warrant on file names Abdullah Ibraham Almhaini, a man accused of first-degree rape in May 1982.
“(The authorities) will pursue felony warrants forever,” Delaney said. “For things like that, they’ll come and find you.”
Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said more than 10,000 active warrants is an inordinate and unacceptable amount.
The longtime sheriff said that when one of his deputies arrests a person with a warrant, “we bring them down, and the court releases them.”
“This tells me that the criminal justice system is broken,” Knezovich said of the warrants total.
Knezovich cited an instance when a high-risk felon with a warrant was arrested on Friday and released the following Monday.
“The liability to the community is huge,” said Knezovich.
Driscoll said he wasn’t surprised by the overall tally.
“We have a high rate of failure to appear in our population,” Driscoll said. “That has been a recurring issue.”
Knezovich also cited jail capacity as a reason he believes many people with warrants aren’t held in custody. Spokane County Jail holds anywhere from 620 to 670 inmates, he said, while Geiger Correctional Institute, the jail overflow facility, houses around 250.
Even if just 5 percent of the people with warrants in Spokane County showed up to the courthouse’s front steps today, the jails wouldn’t have capacity to hold them.
Spokane County court administrators say they give those with misdemeanor offenses ample opportunity to avoid an arrest. Such efforts include the annual Warrant Fest.
For the past couple of years, Warrant Fest has given people with misdemeanor warrants a cost-free chance to recall their warrants at three separate locations by filing paperwork for a new court date.
This year, Callen said, the May event will also allow people with felony warrants to appear.