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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Hassles await inmates eager to clear warrants

 •  No quick fix for backlog of warrants

By Ken Kobayashi and Jim Dooley
Advertiser Staff Writers

Many people duck their warrants but some state prisoners who want to clear them and can be readily located can't even get help.

Over the past decade, about 1,000 form letters have been submitted by inmates to the state Judiciary asking they be served with their traffic and misdemeanor warrants so they can move on with their lives.

First Deputy Public Defender Timothy Ho said the prisoners sometimes get served the warrants. "More than likely, they don't," he said.

Instead of getting warrants, the prisoners receive a two-paragraph form letter from the state district court that handles the warrants. The letter tells them that their requests to get served their traffic warrants have been forwarded to the state Sheriff Division.

Officials there said a team is assigned to serve the warrants, but manpower shortages limit what they can do.

"We handle them when we can," First Deputy Sheriff F. "Cappy" Caminos said. "We have to go to the facility where they're held, pick them up, bring them down to receiving, process them and give them a court date, then take them back to the facility.

"We try to do it with several inmates at a time to make it more efficient."

The court letter said for misdemeanor warrants, the inmates should contact the police. The letter concludes by saying that if the inmates are released without getting their warrants, they should report to Honolulu District Court and ask for help.

Ho doesn't know how many newly released inmates follow the advice, but he said some report that when they go to court, they are referred back to the public defender's office, which can do little to help them.

"It's very frustrating for them," he said.

Ho said the issue is important for prisoners offered jobs upon their release that require a driver's license or a record clear of any pending criminal charges.

When asked about the matter, Judiciary officials acknowledge they receive requests from prisoners who want warrants served on them but pass such requests on to the sheriffs or police.

"When the Judiciary receives a written inquiry, law enforcement is notified about the request and is asked that the warrant be served," said Marsha Kitagawa, courts spokeswoman.

Ho isn't blaming the sheriffs or police because he said they have other duties. Traffic and misdemeanor warrants are a low priority, he noted.

"It's a manpower issue," Ho said.

Reach Ken Kobayashi at kkobayashi@honoluluadvertiser.com and Jim Dooley at jdooley@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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