Greg Botelho and Sara Sidner, CNN, August 25, 2015
The municipal court judge in Ferguson, Missouri, on Monday announced sweeping changes to the city’s court system, including an order to withdraw all arrest warrants issued in that city before December 31, 2014.
Municipal Court Judge Donald McCullin, who was appointed in June, also changed the conditions for pretrial release. According to a press release put out by Ferguson, all defendants will be given new court dates with alternative penalties like payment plans or community service.
Those caught for minor traffic violations should be less likely to end up behind bars because of McCullin. Under the new policy, they won’t be arrested but instead will be released on their own recognizance and given another court date.
These moves come after a year of often emotional protests and an investigation by the U.S. Justice Department after racial tensions exploded over the August 2014 shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson, who is white.
One woman active in the protest movement said she thinks Monday’s actions by McCullin show the demonstrations made a difference.
“As an activist you are going to stay mad because you are not going to always get all that you want,” said Patricia Bynes, the Ferguson Township Democratic committeewoman.
“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.”
Now because of McCullin’s move, warrants–many of which are from traffic tickets and fines people couldn’t pay, as well as failure to appear in court–have been wiped clean.
The court will revisit those cases, with new warrants issued only if a defendant fails to show up in court later, the city explained. And all suspensions of driver’s licenses are now null and void.
Ferguson also says the changes go above and beyond a Missouri state bill passed this year to limit the percentage of revenue that cities can bring in from traffic fines and fees.
“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.
Brendan Roediger, a Saint Louis University law professor and attorney who has represented some defending themselves against the tickets and warrants, called the new moves a good start but not the endgame many want and deserve.
Ferguson’s Municipal Court is one of 83 part-time courts across St. Louis County. Too many of those courts, Roediger said, have engaged in similar practices that have disproportionately and unfairly affected the poor and people of color.
“The combination of racial profiling and revenue-based policing creates massive animosity between people in the community and police. It does not increase public safety.”