On the lam? Warrant Workout Day can help
More than 300 people were booked into the St. Louis County Jail for failing to appear in court on misdemeanor charges in a recent six-month period. That figure -- accounting for about 11 percent of the jail's bookings -- was cited by organizers o...
More than 300 people were booked into the St. Louis County Jail for failing to appear in court on misdemeanor charges in a recent six-month period.
That figure - accounting for about 11 percent of the jail's bookings - was cited by organizers of an upcoming event that aims to cut down on the thousands of outstanding warrants in Northeastern Minnesota.
Judges, prosecutors and public defenders are teaming up for a "Warrant Workout Day" from 9-11:30 a.m. Friday at the St. Louis County Courthouse in Duluth.
Representatives from a number of local agencies will be on hand to help people resolve their warrants without having to make a trip to jail. In most cases, officials say, people will be able to have their warrants quashed by resolving their cases, paying overdue fees or arranging a future court date.
Dan Lew, the region's chief public defender, said most active warrants are not for serious felonies, but rather low-level misdemeanor offenses and ordinance violations that would not typically result in any jail or prison time.
"Most of those folks are released after one or two or three days," he said. "But the disruption to one's life is countless. In those couple days you have not appeared for work. You're not being a very good father or mother or provider for your family. And there's really no public safety risk involved."
The courthouse played host to a similar event in 2010, when about 30 people showed up to take advantage of the opportunity to have their warrants quashed.
The program is organized by representatives of the 6th Judicial District, probation, the public defender's office, the St. Louis County Attorney's Office and the cities of Duluth, Hermantown and Proctor, along with the state Driver Diversion Program.
Judge Theresa Neo will be hearing cases Friday. She helped initiate the program in 2010, when she was working as a prosecutor for the city of Duluth.
"Warrants can cause people a great deal of stress," Neo said. "They're living in fear, always ducking and hiding, not knowing what's going to happen. They get picked up on a night or weekend and they might have to spend a few days in jail. This gives people an opportunity to come in at a set time and, hopefully, get their cases resolved."
Lew said he sees an opportunity to make warrant workout days a regular feature at the courthouses of the 6th Judicial District. Another opportunity is already scheduled for Aug. 25 at the Carlton County Courthouse.
"It's an ideal time to reconsider it as we make some real gains in reducing our jail population and ensuring that we don't contribute to low-level folks spending far too many days in jail," he said. "It's a win-win for everyone involved. You're ensuring attendance in court and cutting down on unnecessary days in jail."
Anyone with an active Minnesota warrant is encouraged to walk in, but organizers say the program is most effective for warrants issued in the 6th Judicial District, which includes St. Louis, Carlton, Cook and Lake counties.
Those with serious warrants could face arrest, but organizers said most people should be able to walk free by either resolving their cases on the spot or setting a court date to contest the charges.
The Duluth courthouse does offer walk-in warrant-resolution appointments every Tuesday and Thursday, but Neo said the dockets tend to get overcrowded and services are not as readily available.
The Warrant Workout Day is different in that the court and representatives from each agency are building time into their schedules for the sole purpose of resolving warrants. Neo said she sees an upside to making the program a regular offering at the courthouse, but only if the public is taking advantage of it.
"If it works, I certainly can't imagine why we wouldn't want to," she said. "It's something we'll revisit as a team and weigh the benefits. It certainly would be easier now that we've got the people and processes in place."
If You Go
- What: Warrant Workout Day
- When: 9-11:30 a.m. Friday
- Where: St. Louis County Courthouse in Duluth, 100 N. Fifth Ave. W.
- How: Anyone with an active Minnesota warrant is encouraged to walk in, no registration required.
- Contact: To see if you have a warrant, call court administration at (218) 726-2460.