Columbia municipal court administrator Andrea Hartgrove said that the court is here to “help people, not put them in jail.”
But when amnesty was offered for 1,244 active warrants for minor offenses, most people didn’t want to help themselves.
The warrant amnesty resulted in little turnout in its first day this week — no one came in during the 90 minutes a Missourian reporter waited at the court.
That is not surprising, Hartgrove said, even though the amnesty provides a chance to clear their warrants.
She projected that 10 to 20 people will arrive to clear their warrant over the course of the week the amnesty is available.
The Columbia Municipal Court last offered warrant amnesty in December 2019. The court was unable to provide amnesty in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
If someone with a warrant were to come in and plead guilty, the judge would recall the warrant, Hartgrove said. If they were to plead not guilty, the judge would set a future court date the person must agree to attend.
Police officer Brad Anderson stood at the entrance to the court Monday, checking people in through the metal detector. He said that the judge is great at working with people and is trying to clear some files by recalling these warrants, but they rarely get many people to come.
In a telephone interview last week, Hartgrove said that it’s a “bit of housekeeping within the legacy system to clear the records and move forward.” She also said that the court has been going “above and beyond” for Columbia residents, sending out multiple reminders about their upcoming court dates.
Judge Cavanaugh Noce said that he believes that the amnesty is a great opportunity for people to show accountability, citing that there is a fear associated with potential jail time that comes with an outstanding warrant. Noce said that the alternative of “community service or fines is the correct remedy to the situation,” as opposed to jail time.
When asked about the reasoning many people provide for having missed court dates leading to the warrant issuance, Noce said that a majority of the time either people had their address changed and hadn’t received their notices or had “other things that were distracting, such as family hospitalization because of the COVID-19 pandemic.” He said that it is very rare for people to willingly miss court dates.
Noce’s past experience with warrant amnesty offerings has been consistent — many people visit the courthouse and plead guilty to their charges the same day.Very rarely, some make a case for themselves, resulting in a later court date, he said. A majority of the outstanding warrants are for violations of traffic-related ordinances, but there have been instances of driving while impaired, minor in possession of alcohol or drugs, and domestic abuse cases, he said.
People typically take an average of two to 10 minutes to get their cases resolved, and most are cleared within the day. Those with outstanding warrants are encouraged to arrive at the courthouse at 9 a.m. to have their case on the day’s docket. If someone arrives later than 9 a.m., their case will be moved to the next available docket that day.