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Ferguson Judge Throws Out Thousands Of Arrest Warrants

By aaroncynic in News on Aug 25, 2015 9:42PM

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Ferguson Municipal Court Judge Donald McCullin announced the city would withdraw thousands of arrest warrants for minor crimes that have landed many of its citizens in jail for little more than unpaid fines.

The New York Times reports all municipal warrants issued prior to Dec. 31, 2014 will be withdrawn, amounting to about 10,000. The order does not include state warrants for more serious crimes.

"These changes should continue the process of restoring confidence in the Court, alleviating fears of the consequences of appearing in Court, and giving many residents a fresh start,” McCullin said in a statement.

According to NBC
, the order also eliminates cash bonds for traffic violations, and defendants will get new court dates and could be offered settlements like community service or payment plans. Some who can’t afford to pay might have them lowered or commuted altogether.

The move comes as a new state law will take effect on Friday which limits the amount of money a Missouri municipality can bring in from traffic fines. The large amount of warrants issued in Ferguson for unpaid fines and other minor crimes drew criticism from the Department of Justice in its investigation into its police force in the wake of the shooting death of Michael Brown, which also found systemic racism within the Ferguson Police Department. In many cases, those warrants were used to threaten members of the community with jail time to force payment, and the “emphasis on revenue…contributed to a pattern of unconstitutional policing,” according to the report.

Ferguson Township Democratic committeewoman Patricia Bynes called the move a win for those who have been demonstrating for change. “As an activist you are going to stay mad because you are not going to always get all that you want,” she told CNN. "But because of the pushing and the pressure that protesters put on Ferguson, I am considering it a win and a very big win. It's an olive branch."

While it’s definitely a step in the right direction, it doesn’t necessarily go far enough, however. Earlier this month, a CNNMoney analysis showed that the city had already issued more than 2,300 arrest warrants for 2015.

Thomas Harvey, executive director of the legal aid group Arch City Defenders, questioned the validity of stops by the Ferguson Police. "There are real questions about the legitimacy of the stops in the first place brought up by the DOJ and Arch City Defenders as well,” he said. "If they want to do something in the interest of community healing they should just get rid of those cases.”

Perhaps the bigger issue is that it’s possible the decision could potentially be reversed in less than a year. Due to state mandated age limits for judges, McCullin is scheduled to retire in six months. Since the order is voluntary, the city may not comply and a new judge could reverse the decision.

Harvey told NBC:

"This court, this town, has shown a history of not doing the right thing. I don't think it's unreasonable to say -- why trust these people who created the system that we are now seeking to reform?"