In the year-plus since Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri, protesters, reporters, and the Department of Justice have all been critical of the city’s hyperaggressive municipal court system, in which residents (usually black ones) were subjected to frequent ticketing, heavy fines, and even jail time during cases that began with minor transgressions like traffic violations and jaywalking. On Monday the city’s new municipal judge announced a major overhaul of the system; per Judge Donald McCullin’s statement, all warrants issued before 2015 will be recalled, and a number of new court practices will be instituted going forward*:
- Driver's licenses will no longer be suspended for failures to appear in court or pay a fine.
- Defendants will not be denied pretrial release because of an inability to make bond.
- “Alternative dispositions” such as community service, payment plans, and reduced fines may be pursued for indigent persons. (Presumably that’s “alternative” in the sense of being an alternative to going to jail.)
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that several other municipalities in St. Louis County have pursued similar amnesty-ish programs ahead of state-level reforms that take effect Friday. The state law caps the amount of money that local authorities can raise through traffic tickets, prohibits monetary charges for failures to appear in court, and prohibits jail sentences for minor traffic violations. (The bill doesn’t, however, cover potentially abusive municipal fines unrelated to traffic, prevent officers from issuing multiple tickets during a single traffic stop, or ban the use of jail time as a punishment for failing to appear.)
*Correction, Aug. 26, 2015: This post originally misspelled Donald McCullin's last name.