Newly Installed Ferguson Judge Rescinds All Arrest Warrants Issued Before 2015
A newly appointed municipal court judge in Ferguson, Missouri has ordered widespread changes for the area's troubled court system, including mandating that all arrest warrants issued in the city before the end of last year be rescinded.
Judge Donald McCullin's order comes in response to a scathing Justice Department review of the city's operations, following the fatal shooting of unarmed black teen Michael Brown by then-police officer Darren Wilson just over a year ago.
According to Reuters, with all arrest warrants stamped before December 31, 2014 now withdrawn, defendants will receive new court dates along with added options for disposing of the cases that could include the total commutation of fines for those deemed indigent.
Just months ago, the Department of Justice's review harshly criticized city leaders for operating a system that found police and the courts working hand and hand "to exploit people in order to raise revenue."
Over that time and in many instances, cases for offenses as minor as municipal code violations resulted in multiple arrests, jail time and payments that far exceeded the cost of the original ticket.
McCullin, who is black, has now decreed, in the event an arrest warrant is issued for a minor traffic violation, the defendant will not be incarcerated, but will be released on his or her own recognizance and given another court date.
"These changes should continue the process of restoring confidence in the Court... and giving many residents a fresh start," McCullin said in a statement.
In addition, many citizens whose driver's licenses are now suspended will be able to regain their licenses and start driving again. In the past, the city's director of revenue would suspend a defendant's driver's license solely for failing to appear in court or failing to pay a fine.
McCullin was installed after Judge Ronald Brockmeyer resigned the post upon receiving heavy criticism in the Justice Department report.
"It is meaningful and will have a real impact on the lives of many," said St. Louis-area lawyer Brendan Roediger, who has helped represent some protesters and others complaining of mistreatment by police and courts in Ferguson. "That being said, payment plans and community service do not solve racial profiling or excessive fines," he added.
The Brown killing set off protests and demonstrations in Ferguson and across the country that have now largely given root to the Black Lives Matter movement.