By Brad Heath / USA TODAY
YUCAIPA, Calif. — For a time, the intruder charged with pressing a revolver to Armando Botello's forehead truly was a wanted man. When he disappeared, the police promised to pursue him anywhere in the United States.
No longer. Last year, the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department notified the FBI that it would pursue the accused armed robber only as far as the state border, even though investigators suspected he had long since left California.
In effect, the change meant that as long as the gunman left the state, he, like thousands of others, was now free to go.
Nationwide, police and prosecutors quietly told the FBI they had abandoned their pursuit of nearly 79,000 accused felons during the past year and a half, a USA TODAY investigation found. They have given up chasing people charged with armed robbery and raping children, usually without informing their victims. Police in one county in California reported they would no longer pursue three of their most-wanted fugitives and a man charged with a murder for which prosecutors have sought the death penalty.
The authorities had previously told the FBI – which maintains a vast index of the nation's fugitives – that they would arrest each of those suspects if police anywhere else in the United States happened to find them, a process known as extradition. But in each case, police and prosecutors have since indicated they will no longer fetch the fugitives if they flee.
So each can now escape the charges simply by crossing state lines. And FBI records suggest many do.
"That shocks me. I can't imagine why anybody would take a major felony and say we'll only arrest him within the state," said Joshua Marquis, the county prosecutor in Astoria, Ore., and a former vice president of the National District Attorneys Association. "I cannot imagine a case of sexual abuse or rape or murder where I would not go to the ends of the earth to get that person back."
In March, a USA TODAY investigation identified thousands of fugitives who police said they would not pursue if they fled the state, usually because they did not want to spend the time or money needed to get them back. The decisions, typically made in secret, allowed old crimes to go unpunished and offered fugitives a virtual license to commit new ones, often as close as in the state next door.
Those cases are multiplying. In just the past year and a half, the total number of fugitives who police won't pursue beyond a state border swelled nearly 77%, to 330,665. The main reason was police agencies changing their minds about what to do with people who have been wanted for years.
Read the rest at USA TODAY.