People hoping to clear bench warrants and pay City Court fines on Monday morning crowded the courthouse steps, after a successful “amnesty day” on Saturday allowed some to clean up their records but sent more home with “rain check” slips to return this week.
Amnesty day drew between 1,200 and 1,500 people trying to pay traffic tickets and clear bench warrants without risking arrest on Saturday, but the officials working that day could only serve between 250 to 300 people. The rest were given lime green and salmon-colored rain check certificates to receive the same amnesty day benefits this week at the courthouse.
City Court officials estimated that they served at least 100 more people from the amnesty program during the first few hours of Monday morning. Inside the courthouse, prosecutors and clerks set up special stations for the amnesty cases and called out names of people waiting to take care of their warrants.
Martha Mumphrey and Lizzie Citizen were among the throngs who waited for hours on Saturday before walking away with the salmon-colored slips to prove they had been there. They went to City Court late Monday morning, where they were greeted by a much smaller line.
“They’re doing a real good job,” Mumphrey said. “Nobody’s been rude. They’ve been trying to help you and answer all of your questions.”
Amnesty day was one result of political disagreements about how best to address around 160,000 outstanding warrants in the city-parish, close of 60 percent of which are for traffic violations.
Some city-parish officials, led by District Attorney Hillar Moore III, proposed a temporary misdemeanor jail that would have been used periodically to hold rounded-up offenders who refused to show up in court. Many people would have the option to bond out, and Moore has noted that during past experiments with this jail most defendants were able to do so.
The Metro Council voted 5-4 against the misdemeanor jail proposal, saying the city-parish should not lock up offenders who are often too poor to pay traffic tickets and court fines, saying it amounted to a “debtor’s prison.” Moore still has not given up on his hopes for a misdemeanor jail, but he worked with Metro Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle to set up the amnesty day program.
On Saturday and Monday, judges allowed defendants to pay off original fines and set aside some bench warrants for unresolved traffic violations. They also imposed alternative sentences for those unable to pay off their citations, like setting up payment plans or community service.
People who could not be taken care of Saturday with unresolved District Court offenses had to take care of them on Monday, while those with City Court warrants have the rest of the week to clear theirs. Moore said Saturday that people with rain check certificates who do not show up this week should come in as soon as possible.
He said rain check slips will prevent them from being arrested for traffic violations in the meantime.
Mumphrey and Citizen both cheered on the concept of “amnesty day,” and said they hope the city-parish does more of them, something Moore has also said he wants. Mumphrey said it shows goodwill for the city-parish to let poor people pay their warrants through payment plans or community service.
“It’s really a good Christmas time gesture,” she said.
Danielle Maddox Kinchen contributed to this report.