BERNALILLO COUNTY, N.M. (KRQE) – For months, law enforcement have been working to address a massive backlog of thousands of felony warrants in Bernalillo County. So, what are these individuals accused of?

To find out, KRQE News 13 analyzed Bernalillo County’s entire list of more than 5,000 felony warrants active as of April 3, 2023. We discovered that some people are accused of multiple crimes and some warrants date back decades.

First off, what is a warrant? It’s not proof of a crime. It’s simply a legal order allowing law enforcement to arrest someone suspected of committing a crime. That includes accusations of fraud, assault, and a range of other accusations.

Most of the Bernalillo County warrants that KRQE News 13 analyzed were issued in the last three years. But the full list goes back decades. There are nearly 300 warrants from the 1990s in the state’s most populous county. And a handful of Bernalillo County’s warrants date back to the 1980s and beyond.

Old warrants

There’s a 1978 warrant for Esquiel Montano, who is accused of escaping from jail decades ago. Court records show that the court case tied to that warrant has been handed down from one judge to another since the 70s. The accused is now 85 years old.

In the case of a warrant that has been active for decades, what are the odds that it’ll ever be served? According to the the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO,) which tracks all of the county’s warrants, fairly low. “In reality, since the warrant hasn’t been served yet, there is a slim chance it will ever be served,” BCSO spokesperson Jayme Fuller told KRQE News 13.

But even old warrants stay active until canceled by the courts. In some cases, the list of active warrants include arrest warrants put out for reasons that may no longer be applicable.

Graphic created by Curtis Segarra, KRQE News 13

For example, one of the active warrants in Bernalillo County is a warrant issued in order to force a witness to appear in court. But the three cases that warrant is tied to have already essentially wrapped up. The jury has delivered their verdict, so there’s seemingly no longer any reason for the individual to appear as a witness, yet she’s actively wanted on that felon warrant.

When asked about that warrant, here’s what the Sheriff’s Office said: “It seems she allegedly failed to appear for a hearing in relation to these three cases. When I look at the docket today, these warrants are still active as they have not been cancelled by the judge and we would confirm validity. If someone reached out to us questioning the validity of this warrant, we would direct them to the 2nd Judicial District Court.”

KRQE News 13 did reach out to the court. We left a message for their spokesperson, but as of publication, we have not heard back.

Breakdown of warrant types

As for what types of cases the warrants represent, there are more than 800 for possession of a controlled substance, over 450 for receiving or transferring a stolen vehicle. There are more than 500 warrants for aggravated assault or burglary, around 200 for DWI-related offenses, and more than 100 warrants related to sex crimes.

There are also dozens of warrants for child support issues, more than a dozen for delinquent children, and hundreds for shoplifting. And there are a couple for more rare crimes, such as making a bomb threat, computer fraud, and escaping from jail.

As for who those warrants are for, most of the individuals with active warrants are between about 25 years old and 50 years old. But there are a few younger – and older – individuals. For example, one warrant is for a 13-year-old. Another is for a 100-year-old.

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The list of active warrants encompasses individuals between the ages of 13 and 100. Data from BCSO | Graphic created by Curtis Segarra, KRQE News 13

Addressing the backlog

As noted before, there’s little hope for ever serving some of the warrants in the backlog. But others can – and do – get served.

Fuller from the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office says that law enforcement generally prioritize warrants based on the severity of the alleged crime. For example, warrants for murder charges are boosted to the top of the list. Violent felony warrants and juvenile warrants also receive a high priority.

Others, such as a warrant for money due, or a warrant for bigamy (yes, there’s one active felony warrant for allegedly getting married while already in a marriage), aren’t likely to be actively sought out by law enforcement. Fuller says they just don’t have the staff to go out and actively try to round up everyone with a warrant. Usually, those lower level warrants end up being served when officers come across them, such as during a traffic stop.

During the 2023 legislative session, state lawmakers and the Governor approved a $10-million overtime fund aimed at reducing the number of active felony warrants across the state. The City of Albuquerque requested the funding before the session began, while also announcing a targeted effort to prioritize and act on thousands of warrants.