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This is the final report of a project which studied outstanding arrest warrants relating to DWI [1] (driving while intoxicated) offenses. Arrest warrants are an order directing a law enforcement agency to seize an individual to answer a complaint. While the vast majority of warrants are issued by courts, other agencies such as parole boards and correction departments are authorized in some states to issue arrest warrants. Bench warrants are usually issued by a judge for persons who fail to appear in court. For less serious offenses, summons or “wants” are sometimes issued instead of arrest warrants. There are other types of warrants (e.g., search warrants, warrants to satisfy judgment) which are outside the scope of this project. For the purposes of clarification, the use of the term “warrant” in this report will apply to an arrest warrant unless otherwise defined.

The project addressed concerns about the number of individuals arrested for DWI who failed to appear (FTA) in court for adjudication and/or sanctioning, resulting in a warrant action. The study also revealed concerns for those offenders with warrants issued for failing to complete or comply (FTC) with court-ordered sanctions. While warrants are typically issued for FTA and/or FTC, locating these absconders [2] and defaulters [3] has often proved unsuccessful for a variety of reasons, thus creating a significant failure of the Traffic Law System in accomplishing both the specific and general deterrence of impaired driving.

The non-appearances of defendants are sometimes a deliberate attempt by guilty persons to avoid receiving or fulfilling sanctions, but other times they are not intentional, but due only to defendants not receiving or understanding instructions about where and when to appear in court. Clearly, deliberate FTAs and FTCs are of more concern from a traffic safety standpoint, but even if non-deliberate, these are also of concern because they are wasteful of time and resources that could be better spent on other anti-DWI related activities. Nationwide, the relative magnitudes of FTAs and FTCs are not known.

A second knowledge gap relates to the kinds of actions that are taken to deal with FTA and/or FTC behavior in jurisdictions where these problems have been identified. Possible actions may be classified as either preventive or remedial. Preventative countermeasures tend to be aimed at the non-deliberate inactions, those caused by system failures. Most FTA / FTC “countermeasures” that we know about fall into the remedial category, centering around court actions (for example, issuing an arrest warrant) aimed at catching defendants that have already failed to appear or comply and bringing them back into the system.


This project addresses both of the two major knowledge gaps outlined above. Specifically, the objectives were:


This project included collection of DWI warrant data and information from the sites, identification and investigation of three sites which had programs to deal with outstanding warrants, and the performance of two focus groups with knowledgeable individuals in the anti-DWI field.

Project staff attempted to collect DWI warrant information from over 100 sites in order to locate 25 sites which would participate. No formal site selection process was used to choose the sites in connection with this project because data relative to outstanding DWI warrants proved difficult to locate. For this reason, any site with pertinent data willing to participate was included, even if the data were incomplete. It has become quite apparent that many areas have little knowledge of how many warrants for DWI-related offenses are issued or are outstanding at any given point in time. In some areas, it was not known how many outstanding warrants there were (no data collected), and in some of those instances we attempted to locate arrest and disposition data ourselves to make rough estimates. We also note that while more sites with data on outstanding warrants were identified, permission to gain access to this data and/or permission for the sites to participate in the study were denied or delayed until time ran out for the project.

In the end, 19 sites contributed to this project. For the reasons discussed above, we would like to acknowledge the contributions of all individuals and organizations in those sites which agreed to participate in this study and believe they should be commended for providing data whenever possible, general system information, and views on the subject which have helped to shed light on a disturbing problem.

Three sites with promising strategies to eliminate or minimize outstanding warrants in their communities are described in detail. These programs are:

Each of these programs is described separately in the three appendices to this report. However, data from these communities are presented and discussed under their corresponding state and county headings in Chapter 3 of this report.

Two focus groups were conducted with knowledgeable anti-DWI system personnel (administrators, prosecutors, judges and law enforcement officers) during a regional impaired driving conference held in Madison, Wisconsin. The focus group findings are presented in Chapter 2 of this report.


[1] The acronyms DWI, DUI, OWI and others are used interchangeably throughout this report depending on pertinent state law. All refer to the criminal action of driving a motor vehicle, either 1) while “illegal per se” or 2) while either impaired, under the influence or while intoxicated by either alcohol or drugs.

[2] An absconder is a person who travels out of the jurisdiction of the court, or conceals him/herself in order to avoid court proceedings.

[3] A defaulter is a person who fails to discharge a duty (e.g., fails to fulfill court-ordered sanctions such as payment of fines) or fails to take procedural steps to prohibit the entry of a judgment against him or her (e.g., failure to appear in court).