A day for people to clear their warrants and 'move on with their own lives'

Got an outstanding minor warrant in Minnesota? You may get your chance to have it cleared this weekend without fearing arrest.

Defense attorneys, judges and even court reporters will be on hand at Washington Technology Magnet School in St. Paul on Saturday. Anyone who has an outstanding misdemeanor warrant from any county in the state will be able walk into the school and deal with it there.

People with warrants for misdemeanors or gross misdemeanors will be able to talk to defense attorneys, who can then strike deals with prosecutors. Warrants could even be quashed at the event. Ramsey County District Court Chief Judge John Guthmann said they're essentially holding a session of court outside the courthouse.

"By creating an opportunity to resolve warrants and for people to come in, we are able to process the cases we have, attend to public safety and at the same time help people move on with their own lives," Guthmann said.

It's become an annual tradition for the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota and other groups to join with the courts to host Misdemeanor Warrant Resolution Day. But it's the first time that the event has applied to warrants issued all across the state.

That's partly because people who have outstanding warrants may not remember which county issued the warrant, Guthmann said. They may not even realize they have a warrant out for something as simple as missing a court date.

"People want to set things right, but they're also afraid of the consequences," Guthmann said. "Warrant resolution day presents a unique opportunity for people with misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor warrants to be proactive about addressing their past, and that necessarily means that it helps improve their future."

People with felony warrants in their name are not eligible to resolve their cases. But the court and involved groups say no one will be arrested.

"We can assure that, we've done that for the past several years and not one person has been arrested on our watch," said Eli Darris, of the ACLU of Minnesota. "We have processes and systems in place for your protection."

Being pulled over and taken to jail over a minor legal matter can ruin someone's life.

"Everything can come crashing down," Darris said. "You could lose your job, you could lose your vehicle, you could lose your house, you could lose a lot about what sustains your life."

The ACLU says more than 500 people were able to resolve their warrants at the two previous warrant resolution events.

The event is sponsored by four Twin Cities metro counties, the St. Paul City Attorney's Office, the state court, the ACLU of Minnesota, NAACP Minneapolis and Pueblos de Lucha y Esperanza.

People who have had bad experiences in the criminal justice system, including people of color who feel they haven't been treated fairly, can be wary, Darris said. But the fact that so many groups are working together to hold warrant resolution day is a signal that they want to rebuild trust with residents.

"It's an opportunity for this system to do some outreach, to say to people that we exist for more than just to penalize and to create punitive measures in your life," Darris said. "It's important that you're also restored in our community because you're a member of our community."

Misdemeanor Warrant Resolution Day will be held Saturday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at Washington Technology Magnet School on Rice Street in St. Paul. The groups hosting the event are also providing child care and refreshments. "We serve the public," Guthmann said. "It's important to us as public servants to have a system that's accessible, understandable and meets the needs of public safety while also making sure that individuals can navigate the system and feel that they've received just treatment."

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