SPECIAL REPORT: Fugitives Escaping Justice, extraditing those on the run

SPECIAL REPORT: Fugitives Escaping Justice, extraditing those on the run

(KWES) - Wanted felons face many charges every day. Some fail at trying to escape their crimes by fleeing the state. However, some are successful.

Over 160,000 cases in the United States go unpunished. This means some fugitives can escape justice just by simply crossing state borders.

"I get appointed all the time by people who arrested here in Texas and who are wanted out of state," said criminal defense attorney Sara Spector. "Everybody has the same law so there's an interstate agreement that everybody returns their fugitive to the other state. Then, you get some rights."

If a felon has a warrant but they're caught in a different state, they must go through a process of being handed over to where the crime was committed, also known as extradition.

"It's very frustrating," said Sheriff Gary Painter with the Midland County Sheriff's Department. He said Midland County receives many felons out of New Mexico that move to Texas. He said there are also people from around the country who come to work in West Texas in the oil field. Some have warrants but end up back in jail.

"We deal with that every single day," said Sheriff Painter. "Today, I got 444 prisoners in custody. Probably 80% of those people are felons, retrial felons that are awaiting trial."

Some law enforcement agencies around the US issue non-extradition warrants meaning agencies in cities like Philadelphia, Little Rock, Atlanta, and St. Louis will not leave their state to pick up wanted fugitives in another. Meaning these wanted fugitives are free to go.

"We go after them. We bring them back. They're going to stand trial," said Sheriff Painter.

But Midland County is far from keeping fugitives on the run.

"When they commit a violation of the law, they need to stand up and atone for their sins they need to stand before a court because the victim is who we support," said Sheriff Painter. "We're going to push and we're going to help them."

Agencies have 30 days to pick up a fugitive. If a fugitive waives his extradition, he can be picked up and taken back to his wanted state. If he fights extradition, the state governor issues a governor's warrant to bring him back. Once he gets a hearing, he can try to fight extradition in court.

"Normally you're going to lose it," said Spector. "The only two defenses to an extradition hearing is the state's paperwork is incorrect. If you're contesting that you're actually not the person, then there's an identity issue."

Some agencies refuse to pick up fugitives. Reasons being there is not enough jail space, the state where they are arrested in doesn't border the state they're wanted in, which leads it to being too expensive or it's just not worth the time. Midland County usually extradites fugitives every four to five months. Now, they average two extraditions a month.

"We've got two ward officers and they're on road trips all the time," said Sheriff Painter. "We got right at 600 felony warrants that are outstanding so we stay busy."

Regardless of where they're from, a crime is a crime. With traveling long distances, typically two dollars per mile on top of administrative fees, the cost that Sheriff Painter said is not an excuse for felons have a free ticket out of their crime.

"I don't care that they're guilty or not guilty. The fact I have a warrant in my hands and the court says to bring them up and bring them here, that's my job. I don't care. We're going to go after them."
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