For one day, a chance to get right with the law

Hennepin County Courts offered up a deal Saturday - if you've got a misdemeanor warrant, come in and the county will clear it. For a few hundred people, it was a chance to clean up a record and move on with their lives.

Pilisi Lane lives in Phoenix and has been haunted by a three-year-old warrant out of Minneapolis. Because of it, she said she can't get a full-time job. Instead she works as a temp with no benefits, vacation or company health insurance.

Then she saw on Facebook that Hennepin County was offering to forgive qualifying misdemeanor warrants. At first she didn't believe it, but then saw that the NAACP, ACLU and others had planned it.

"I booked my flight 14 days in advance. Pre-registered. Got an email that said done deal," she said. "I caught my flight yesterday, around 7 p.m. [Friday] and got here and made it in."

She was the first person into the gym at Sabathani Community Center, where Misdemeanor Warrant Forgiveness Day was hosted by the Hennepin County Court system, as well as other organizations.

Lane said her judge cleared the warrant and sentenced her to two hours of community service for driving without insurance.

"I was crying after they printed up or wrote up the paperwork. Then I saw a judge, it was like a people's court looking judge, but it was real," she said.

She did the community service immediately, going upstairs at the Sabathani Community Center to write letters to prisoners.

It's for people like Lane that Jason Sole, the head of the Minneapolis NAACP, wanted to have the warrant forgiveness day, which he started pitching to the court system two years ago.

"Just so many people saying I'm scared to look for a job or this warrant is stopping me from doing what I need to do," he said. "And it was like, we've got to figure out something. There's too many good people not finding a way to exit the system. And these are low level offenses."

These are things like driving without insurance, loitering, trespassing, disorderly conduct. People could show up Saturday without fear of jail time, to clear the warrant. Most received some sort of community service.

There are nearly 10,000 misdemeanor warrants active in Hennepin County that qualify.

Hennepin County Assistant Chief Judge Todd Barnette said the county last did this in the early 2000s. He sees the program as improving relationships, helping offenders move forward and also helping the county - as fines often don't cover the cost of jail time.

"I know that we are saving the county money by taking care of people's warrants," he said. "They're not going to jail, they're not impacting social services. And hopefully they'll have a positive experience because we're out here in the community."

For Pilisi Lane, she'll head back to Phoenix Monday. With her warrant gone, she hopes her employer will now move her off temporary status into full employment, with benefits.

"So now, I've been with the same employer for ten months. And now I can get converted, immediately. Because the warrant is gone," she said.

Organizers said they were hoping to help at least 200 people.

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