- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 1, 2014

ST. LOUIS (AP) - About 220,000 outstanding warrants for nonviolent city ordinance violations in St. Louis will be forgiven so long as the offenders schedule a new court date by the year’s end, city officials said.

St. Louis’ municipal court will begin automatically clearing the warrants issued before Oct. 1, the mayor’s chief of staff Jeff Rainford told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (https://bit.ly/1uB7PNT ). The idea for the program came from conversations about protests over Michael Brown’s fatal shooting in Ferguson, where many advocates of the poor had complained some residents are burdened by court fines.

“In light of Ferguson, we were thinking of how we can be more fair,” Rainford said.

Bench warrants are typically issued when someone misses a court appearance, meaning that person could be arrested and forced to pay several hundred dollars for bail on top of their underlying ticket.

Mary Ellen Ponder, the city’s operations director, estimated about 70,000 to 80,000 people will receive postcards informing them their warrant will be cleared until Dec. 31. Many people have an average of three to four outstanding warrants. If offenders don’t come to municipal court to schedule a new court date, then the warrant will be put back in place.

“This is a way for people get this off their back and for us to get it off the books,” Rainford said. “But it also keeps people accountable for the underlying offenses.”

He also stressed the amnesty wouldn’t apply to state crimes or drunken driving offenses.

Thomas Harvey, the executive director of ArchCity defenders, said St. Louis’s approach is more progressive than any other amnesty program he’s seen.

“There is not a better warrant recall program than that,” Harvey said.

The program is separate from another city amnesty initiative that allowed offenders to clear warrants for a $35 fee.

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Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, https://www.stltoday.com


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