Texas Statewide Warrant Roundup Cracks Down on Outstanding Fugitives

GTWR - Mineral Wells PD
Image Courtesy Mineral Wells Police Department

The 2016 Great Texas Warrant Roundup kicked off on Saturday, March 5, to crack down on individuals with outstanding unpaid warrants. While it intends to bring offenders to compliance, it also means those detained because of overdue fines may find they pay the piper with possible jail time.

This is the ninth annual statewide roundup. It is expected to last for several days and believed to be the largest joint operation of its kind. Law enforcement agencies and courts across more than 300 Texas jurisdictions joined forces to send a message about delinquent unpaid tickets. The roundup will potentially affect hundreds of thousands of delinquent offenders statewide with traffic, parking, city ordinance, and higher charge warrants from local, state and federal jurisdictions.

The objective of the roundup is to bring the individuals with outstanding warrants into compliance with court orders. Police can and will arrest these Texans for those unpaid warrants.

“The goal of this roundup is to hold people accountable and to pay the fines that they owe to the courts, not to take people to jail,” commented Joe Wright, a North Texas constable in Collin County, in a statement released on Friday, according to CBS DFW.

The Lone Star State provided a grace period before this roundup began, mailing hundreds of thousands of notices through participating agencies. Now underway, authorities may come to people’s home, school, or office and arrest them on the spot over an outstanding warrant, says the Dallas CBS-TV affiliate. Those stopped while driving may also face vehicle impoundment, incurring additional costs.

On Friday, KTRK 13, the Houston ABC-TV affiliate reported that Harris County sheriff officers were ready to take offenders straight to jail and planned to go door-to-door, including to places of employment to track down offenders. Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman said via Twitter, “We’ll be helping make rounds beginning tomorrow. Clear up your warrants before we show up.”

TexasWarrantRoundup.org, a website that states it is not affiliated with any federal or state government agencies but provides additional information about the roundup, added that a hold can be placed on people’s vehicle registration renewal until these unpaid fines are resolved.

The site lists the state’s participating counties in the operation and advises citizens to come forward and satisfy the debt as soon as possible to clear their names. It also recommends affected individuals contact an attorney to act on their behalf since legal counsel can assist in posting a bond to suspend the arrest warrant which sends these cases back before a jury to be decided.

However, advocacy groups the Texas American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Texas Appleseed, the University of Texas School of Law Civil Rights Clinic, and the Texas Fair Defense Project are among the advocacy groups that teamed up to try to inform people of their rights before the round-up began, especially lower income individuals, who they fear may be unlawfully jailed.

ACLU staff attorney Trish Trigilio said that anyone arrested during the round-up has a right to a hearing in which they can tell a judge basic information, including whether or not they can afford to pay the fines, the Houston Chronicle reported.

“A person can ask for options such as tailoring a fine to his or her income, creating a manageable payment plan, or waiving the balance if they have already been punished enough,” said Trigilio in February. “It is unconstitutional to jail anyone solely because they can’t afford a fine.”

However, for individuals unable to pay fines, authorities recommend they contact the courts in their jurisdictions to discuss available options to resolve the matter.

The Texas warrant roundup site noted police arrested 4,110 individuals and 29,847 warrants cleared in the city of Houston alone back in 2011.

Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.