Comptroller seeks to withhold tax refunds from those with arrest warrants

 

By Josh Magness and Lexie Schapitl

Capital News Service

handcuffs

Photo by Mike, Txspiked on Flickr.

The comptroller’s office would be able to withhold tax refunds from individuals who have outstanding arrest warrants throughout the state, under a pair of Maryland bills designed to provide criminal suspects with a financial incentive to turn themselves in.

At a press conference and a House Ways and Means Committee hearing Tuesday, State Comptroller Peter Franchot, legislators and law enforcement officials spoke in favor of the Tax Refund-Warrant Intercept Program. The program is a way to reward law-abiding citizens and diminish the potential risk police officers may face, supporters said.

Under the program, the comptroller’s office mails a letter to those with outstanding warrants, informing them of an opportunity to turn themselves in to law enforcement. Similar plans are operating in Anne Arundel and Washington counties, Franchot said.

Those named in a warrant can come in under safe and controlled conditions, affording them the opportunity to arrange for bail, find an attorney and avoid public embarrassment, Anne Arundel County Sheriff Ron Bateman said.

Efficient and effective

“In my 37 years of law enforcement, I see this as the most efficient and effective way to serve an arrest warrant bar none,” Bateman said at the press conference. “This offers levels of safety that don’t exist today.”

The comptroller’s office estimates there are roughly 200,000 outstanding warrants in the state, and 133,000 of these are in counties not participating in the program, according to a legislative analysis.

Franchot said the warrant intercept programs in Anne Arundel and Washington counties have been “an extremely effective mechanism in serving outstanding warrants.”

Since 2013, the comptroller’s office has withheld nearly 1,500 refunds totaling more than $997,000, Franchot said. The office eventually released $812,543 after 1,107 warrants were satisfied, according to Franchot.

Unclaimed refunds will “sit in perpetuity” until individuals satisfy their warrants, according to Vicki Fisher of the comptroller’s office.

“These are people who come in and do the right thing and settle their warrant,” Franchot said. “We simply give them some incentive.”

Hundreds of warrants served

Sen. Ed Reilly, R-Anne Arundel, who is sponsoring the Senate bill to authorize the program, said “hundreds upon hundreds” of warrants have been successfully cleared in his county since withholding tax refunds.

“During this period there has not been one complaint, there has not been one assault, there has not been one occasion where the warrant team has had to chase somebody through somebody else’s backyard,” the senator said.

Delegate Teresa Reilly, R-Cecil, the bill’s House sponsor, emphasized the integral role the counties play in implementing the program.

“The counties will still have local control and will be able to opt in or out of the program,” the delegate said. “That is very important.”

At the hearing, Bateman said the program provides law enforcement with another tool to mitigate dangerous circumstances.

“Our deputies and officers work hard every day and put themselves in danger every day when they serve an arrest warrant,” he said. “There is no question that this statewide law will increase the odds that our deputies and officers will go home safe to their families.”

 

About The Author

Capital News Service

kdenny12@umd.edu

Capital News Service is a student-powered news organization run by the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism. For 26 years, we have provided deeply reported, award-winning coverage of issues of import to Marylanders. With bureaus in College Park, Annapolis and Washington run by professional journalists with decades of experience, we deliver news in multiple formats via partner news organizations, a destination Web site, a nightly on-air television newscast and affiliated social media channels (including Twitter and Facebook). We provide breaking news coverage, in-depth investigative and enterprise journalism, and serve as a laboratory for students to test and develop innovative new methods of reporting and telling stories. By providing a true newsroom experience to our students, we send them into the job market with real-world skills and the ability to shape the future of journalism. Only Merrill’s most motivated students are accepted into the Capital News Service program, and they go on to land internships and jobs at the nation’s finest news organizations: The New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, the Associated Press, Politico, the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, ProPublica, National Geographic, NBC News, The Dallas Morning News, the Washington City Paper, Washingtonian magazine, Money magazine, the Wall Street Journal and more.

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