New York Considering Amnesty for 1.2 Million Warrants - Carlos GaminoBy Carlos Gamino

Failure to appear in court is a crime that can land you in jail. Even if you only got a ticket for disorderly conduct or some other low-level infraction, not showing up for court will earn you an arrest warrant.

However, New York City is putting forth the idea of granting amnesty – a sort of “wiping the slate clean” process – for about 1.2 million old warrants.

It’s pretty controversial, and here’s why.

What Usually Happens to Old Arrest Warrants

Warrants don’t just go away if you ignore them, and they never expire. The only way to get rid of a warrant is to turn yourself in to the police or to be arrested (many people are arrested for warrants during routine traffic stops).

Some of the 1.2 million open warrants in New York’s court system are decades old.

About 40 percent of people who receive citations, including traffic tickets, never show up for court. Some decided to skip court, and some just plain forgot. Many of these people now have outstanding warrants, which means they are facing penalties such as jail time and fines for missing court.

In New York, the old warrants have created a huge backlog problem for the police.

“It would be great to get rid of a lot of that backlog. It’s not to our benefit from a policing standpoint to have all those warrants floating around out there,” Police Commissioner William Bratton told the Associated Press.

What’s New York Going to Do About 1.2 Million Arrest Warrants?

City officials still need to talk about it, but Commissioner Bratton thinks amnesty might be the answer.

Amnesty might apply to anyone with an outstanding warrant, or only to people with certain types of warrants. The idea is that people with warrants would be notified that if they show up to resolve their cases, police won’t arrest them. Officials haven’t resolved the specifics of how that would work, though, and logically, some people with warrants may not trust the system to work in this way.

NY’s Amnesty on a Small Scale

Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson is implementing a small-scale amnesty program by working with judges to clear old, low-level warrants. Thompson says that he, for one, is open to participating in a broader scheme to settle old cases “effectively and fairly.”

Last month, NYC officials announced they are planning to redesign the summons form. They’ll start texting reminders to people to help them remember to s how up for court. They’re also going to cut down court processing times to reduce the number of petty offenders who wind up in jail.

What Do You Think?

Should Wisconsin implement a plan like this to wipe out old arrest warrants that clog up the system, or should they stay on the books for justice’s sake?

I’d love to hear your take, so chime in on the discussion on the Carlos Gamino Facebook page or on Twitter.

Carlos Gamino