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Warrant-amnesty program gives residents clean slate in St. Louis-area courts

James Clark, vice president of community outreach at Better Family Life, addresses a crowd of people who have just received amnesty vouchers. He recommends keeping the vouchers on them at all times until the warrant is dismissed. August 15, 2018.
Kae Petrin | St. Louis Public Radio

People with misdemeanor warrants in St. Louis-area municipalities have a chance to get them dismissed Wednesday and Saturday this week.

Better Family Life’s warrant-amnesty program lets people pay a $10 processing fee to receive a $100 voucher that helps dismiss warrants for nonviolent offenses such as traffic violations or child-support delinquency, and other misdemeanor crimes.

Better Family Life officials said 65 municipalities are participating in the program this year. City of St. Louis officials reported more than 54,000 outstanding warrants at the beginning of this year.

Wednesday’s event runs from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Forest Park campus of St. Louis Community College. On Saturday, the event will be held at Greater St. Mark Family Church in north St. Louis county, also from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.

Often, people who have outstanding warrants only address them after being stopped by law enforcement, arrested, spending a few days in jail and paying bond, said James Clark, vice president of community outreach at Better Family Life.

Through the warrant-amnesty program, the process goes much differently.

“This gives the citizen a non-threatening way to re-engage the courts without having to be arrested,” he said.

People take vouchers to the municipality that issued the warrant. Those warrants can then be dismissed, and a new court date scheduled.

Clark encourages anyone who goes to court to request community service instead of a fine.

"A little load off your shoulders"

Eric Harris, 26, got a warrant dismissed for a speeding ticket on Wednesday morning. The dismissal of the warrant allows him go to court and challenge the ticket with a lawyer.

“It takes a little load off of your shoulders, where you can be like, ‘OK, I don’t have to worry about driving and getting pulled over and possibly going to jail for a traffic ticket,’ ” he said. “I feel a little bit more free.”

He said he may take Clark’s advice and request community service to avoid further fines.

Harris said that without a warrant-amnesty program, people in his situation face getting pulled over, finding a lawyer to decrease the severity of the ticket, or just pleading guilty. Harris worked a table at the event because he’s interested in doing more community work like this to help youths. Many people in his community don’t have good options without the amnesty program, he said.

Better Family Life worked with local courts to start the program in 2000 after the nonprofit observed that warrants were preventing its job-training graduates from getting consistent work, Clark said. Outstanding warrants can make it hard for to sign a lease, get a job, send children to daycare, or do anything else that involves background checks.

Warrant amnesty “really gives people the opportunity to access things that they need to improve the quality of their life,” Clark said.

Follow Kae on Twitter: @kmaepetrin

Kae Petrin covers public transportation and housing as a digital reporter for St. Louis Public Radio.

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