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S.D. County Enables Settlement Of Many Outstanding Warrants

At any given time, there are roughly 15,000 warrants on file in Minnehaha County, S.D., any of which could lead to an arrest. The crimes behind those warrants range from unpaid traffic tickets to assault or homicide. To the criminal justice system, they’re treated the same. The backlog can clog up the system and cost taxpayer dollars, said Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead. For those named on the warrants, failure to pay that traffic ticket can mean being thrown in jail, which could disrupt their life, stress relationships, cause job loss or create financial stress. The recent pilot of a Warrant Resolution Court in Sioux Falls aims to show how counties can alleviate that stress on law enforcement and the court system. “If we can resolve these low risk cases and still meet the needs of the victims in a cost effective and safe manner, that’s a pretty good deal,” Milstead said. More than 170 warrants were resolved through four court dates with the pilot program over the winter, South Dakota Searchlight reports. The program lets people with outstanding warrants for low-level crimes settle their warrants with the sheriff’s department after hours at the courthouse and talk with the state’s attorneys, public defenders, and a judge to work out arrangements for a resolution.

The pilot program was led by Second Circuit Judge Robin Houwman and funded by a grant from the MacArthur Foundation. According to the state Unified Judicial System, it was the first warrant resolution court in South Dakota. “It allows us more time to deal with the bigger cases during the day so we can focus on the people who are in custody, the more serious cases and clients that are in jail,” said Traci Smith, public defender for Minnehaha County. “Every day that a person spends in jail, the harder it is for them to get back on track.” However, the pilot period has come to an end and it’s unclear if the program will continue. While it will take a few months to track if court participants followed through on their payment schedules and court dates, the Minnehaha State’s Attorney Office had 62 pleas over the four court dates. A third saw the entire case resolved, including financial obligations. Based on the eventual review, the county could decide to continue with the program with taxpayer money. If the warrant resolution court is deemed successful, Smith would like to see it continued and expanded. She added that it’s important to educate people about how to take care of warrants and about the importance of paying traffic tickets or any other fees.


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