Thousands Run Free Despite Warrants

ByABC News via logo
August 7, 2002, 11:26 AM

Aug. 7 -- Roy Ratliff, a wanted man with a criminal past, was accused of raping a 19-year-old relative last year, yet he was free to kidnap two teenage girls at gunpoint just last week.

The details of his final crime and its dramatic ending may seem unique, but the circumstances that allowed it to occur are not.

Thousands of criminals, many violent, remain on the lam despite outstanding felony warrants for their arrests.

A warrant for Ratliff's arrest on five counts of sexual assault had been issued in October 2001, three months after he was paroled, yet he was never apprehended. Over the last 13 years, he had been convicted three times on felony charges, including burglary and drug charges.

Ratliff was shot dead by police last week when he refused to surrender after police found him with the two teens he had kidnapped 12 hours earlier from a lovers' lane in Lancaster, Calif.

According to the FBI's National Crime Information Center, which police use for background checks on suspects, there are more than 789,000 outstanding warrants for felonies and serious misdemeanors filed in their system, but the actual number of warrants in the United States is actually much higher.

In California alone, there are 252,000 outstanding felony warrants, according to the office of the state attorney general. Of these warrants, approximately 2,800 are for homicide, 640 are for kidnapping, and 1,800 are for sexual assault suspects.

In Florida, the total number of outstanding warrants, both felony and misdemeanor, is 325,000, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. There are 898 homicide warrants, 273 kidnapping warrants and 565 sexual assault warrants outstanding.

A large percentage of outstanding warrants are never entered by states because they are not required to file their warrants into the FBI's national system.

Attorney General John Ashcroft told ABCNEWS' Good Morning America Tuesday that the FBI's national system is helpful to law enforcement officials around the country, despite its shortcomings.