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If There's a Warrant for Your Arrest, the Government Should Have to Tell You
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There ought to be a law.

I read about Eric Barrier, half of the classic rap duo Eric B. and Rakim, and how he recently wound up in jail. The story is interesting not because it’s unusual but because it’s typical.

Without getting into the weeds of his original 2002 offense because that would distract from my point here, Barrier’s lawyer told him to skip his sentencing hearing because his presence wasn’t required.

Wrong. Unbeknownst to Barrier, New Jersey authorities had issued a warrant for his arrest. “More than 17 years passed before he first learned of the warrant, from law enforcement authorities in Vermont when he came into the United States from Canada last month,” according to The New York Times. In October, Barrier presented himself to court officials, who promptly arrested him. He was freed on bail Nov. 12 after weeks in prison. I’m 99% sure he would have addressed the issue if he’d known about it.

This is a common problem. Every day, courts across the United States issue arrest thousands of arrest warrants for crimes ranging from serious felonies to offenses as minor as failing to pay a parking ticket, jaywalking or not renewing a dog license. Millions of Americans have outstanding warrants. In 2016, there were 1.5 million warrants for New Yorkers — one out of six residents of the city.

The vast majority has no idea they’re wanted.

“Most jurisdictions around the nation are doing nothing with warrants like this. Nothing,” said Professor David Kennedy of John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Criminals and innocent citizens alike conduct their daily routines oblivious of the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads until they get pulled over for a traffic stop or otherwise come into contact with a police officer. The computer spits out their name, handcuffs get slapped on, and off they go, sucked into the system.

When it’s a rapist or a murderer, that’s great. But does a system that only snags rapists and murderers who don’t make full stops and drive over the speed limit make sense?

It’s not so great to arrest and process people who committed minor offenses, many of whom would have happily paid their old tickets if the state didn’t keep them ignorant about their legal peril.

Many friends I talked to about this subject told me that they or someone they knew had been arrested on a warrant they’d never heard of. It’s hardly surprising. About 7 million Americans are driving around with their licenses suspended because municipalities believe they owe money for unpaid parking tickets or moving violations. Many of them have no idea they are a single traffic stop away from a seriously bad day.

ORDER IT NOW

I got a speeding ticket and paid the fine, on time. But the municipality didn’t credit me. I had my canceled check so I assumed I was in the clear. Later, when I was pulled over for something different, the officer informed me that my license had been pulled over the “unpaid” ticket — the DMV never notified me of the suspension, and no, I hadn’t moved — so the cop arrested me and took me to the station for an hour or two. Setting things straight ultimately cost me thousands of dollars in attorney fees.

Warrants and license suspensions can be life-changing events. What if you get nabbed on your way to pick up your child from school and they take away your phone while you’re being booked? Given how disruptive warrants are, not just to civilians but also to law enforcement officers who should be chasing actual criminals, there ought to be a federal law mandating that states and local municipalities send notices via the mail to the last address for people wanted for arrest or whose driving privileges have been suspended. Notices should be mailed repeatedly, at least annually, to give people a chance to make things right.

Police departments and other government agencies have massive comprehensive universal databases, some with facial recognition and DNA, that make it possible for them to find almost anyone in the United States if they really want to.

So why don’t issuers of arrest warrants tap into these resources? The cynic in me has an answer: Governments make millions of dollars by dunning scofflaws with additional fines, fees and bail. That’s a revenue stream that would vanish if most people knew they owed cash and where to send it in to settle their debt.

If Congress acts, life will get a little easier. More importantly, it will restore a bit of the faith Americans have lost in our government and public officials.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Police State 
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  1. Murderers and rapists are dangerous. It is much safer to do arrests in petty offenders over what should be either civil violations of Not a crime at all.

    Cops in the U.S. are at war with the American people. There is no war on cops.

  2. Jmaie says:

    In 2016, there were 1.5 million warrants for New Yorkers — one out of six residents of the city.

    I’m guessing it’s a much smaller percentage of the population, with multiple warrants each…

  3. I work in criminal defense, and the notion that the majority of people with warrants don’t know that they’re wanted is dubious. You’re trying to tell me that they were laboring under the mistaken belief that their court cases just magically went away?

    Even on the traffic stuff, a lot of these people are serial offenders and savvy enough to know that if they don’t either pay out their ticket or show up to court that a warrant is going to issue. That’s leaving aside the fact that traffic tickets generally have a court date and payout instructions written on them.

    Now, if you’d like to challenge the merits of locking people up on traffic tickets to begin with, I’d have that discussion.

    • Replies: @obvious
  4. IvyMike says:

    If Congress acts, life will get a little easier. More importantly, it will restore a bit of the faith Americans have lost in our government and public officials.
    That’s even funnier than Ted’s old cartoons.

  5. Made sense, up until the fantasy about Congress acting in the citizens’ interest.

  6. They want the money. The cops are the front-line repo men. They habeas the corpus in front of a magistrate whose salary and staff are paid by squeezing cash out of small fish. The legislators don’t want to actually fund courts and jurisprudence, and the cops need the arrest people to justify their status and scare the public. The victims are mostly broke and aren’t going to pay unless they are in the can. There is NO incentive among anyone working in the system to change it, too many rice bowls vulnerable.

    The dirtbags (not all, but the great lot of them are dirtbags) who are wanted are not really worth the time, but if they let the dirtbags go without paying or otherwise hassling them, the decent people will stop paying as well. Think of it as a variant of Gresham’s Law.

  7. Biff says:

    Got a ticket for lighting fireworks when I was a kid – paid the fine – years later got pulled over and off to jail I went – they told me there was an additional balance of $10 for that ticket – paid them the money and they threw me out(said merry Christmas because it was Christmas Day)in the cold miles away from my car, and had to hoof it the whole way – nice fucking people.

  8. I don’t know about the US but traffic fines in Australia are vicious. Get caught looking at a mobile phone, even if stationary & you will be up for fines in the $ 400-450 range.
    The only saving grace is that those unable to pay the lump sum can enter into an automatic debit of $ 20 or so dollars p.w until the fine is paid off.
    In the old days it was not totally unknown for poorer Australians to enter prison voluntarily, as the fine would be “paid off” at something like $100 per day of incarceration (some times over crowding would see early release with fine wiped off)

  9. @animalogic

    This is known in Texas as “sitting it out,” fines credited for time served, scofflaw gets meals and a warm bed on the county’s dime. Qui bono?

  10. Setting things straight ultimately cost me thousands of dollars in attorney fees.

    Attornment – the formal transference of something to someone else.

    Now you know who the principal beneficiaries of the protection racket are…

    And you rewarded them for their criminal actions under color of law. Good Job!

    “The use of the highways for the purpose of travel and transportation is not a mere privilege, but a common and fundamental Right of which the public and the individual cannot be rightfully deprived.”

    Chicago Motor Coach vs. Chicago, 169 NE 221;
    Ligare vs. Chicago, 28 NE 934;
    Boon vs. Clark, 214 SSW 607;
    25 Am.Jur. (1st) Highways Sect.163

    “The Right of the Citizen to travel upon the public highways and to transport his property thereon, either by horse drawn carriage or by automobile, is not a mere privilege which a city can prohibit or permit at will, but a common Right which he has under the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

    Thompson vs. Smith, 154 SE 579

    “… For while a Citizen has the Right to travel upon the public highways and to transport his property thereon, that Right does not extend to the use of the highways, either in whole or in part, as a place for private gain. For the latter purpose, no person has a vested right to use the highways of the state, but is a privilege or a license which the legislature may grant or withhold at its discretion.”

    State vs. Johnson, 243 P. 1073;
    Cummins vs. Homes, 155 P. 171;
    Packard vs. Banton, 44 S.Ct. 256;
    Hadfield vs. Lundin, 98 Wash 516

    “Heretofore the court has held, and we think correctly, that while a Citizen has the Right to travel upon the public highways and to transport his property thereon, that Right does not extend to the use of the highways, either in whole or in part, as a place of business for private gain.”

    Willis vs. Buck, 263 P. l 982;
    Barney vs. Board of Railroad Commissioners, 17 P.2d 82

    “The right of the citizen to travel upon the highway and to transport his property thereon, in the ordinary course of life and business, differs radically and obviously from that of one who makes the highway his place of business for private gain in the running of a stagecoach or omnibus.”

    State vs. City of Spokane, 186 P. 864

    “It is not contended by any one that the city would have the right to prevent the appellant from riding in his automobile on any street in the city … for the streets were built (sic) for that purpose.”

    Green v San Antonio, 178 SW 6;
    Hadfield-Respondent’s Brief, Pg 32.

    18 U.S. Code § 31. Definitions

    (6) Motor vehicle.—
    The term “motor vehicle” means every description of carriage or other contrivance propelled or drawn by mechanical power and used for commercial purposes on the highways in the transportation of passengers, passengers and property, or property or cargo.

    used for commercial purposes
    (10) Used for commercial purposes .— The term “used for commercial purposes” means the carriage of persons or property for any fare, fee, rate, charge or other consideration, or directly or indirectly in connection with any business, or other undertaking intended for profit.

    https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/31

    “Where rights secured by the Constitution are involved, there can be no rule making or legislation which would abrogate them.”

    Miranda vs. Arizona, 384 US 436, 491

    “The claim and exercise of a constitutional Right cannot be converted into a crime.”

    Miller vs. U.S., 230 F. 486, 489

    “There can be no sanction or penalty imposed upon one because of this exercise of constitutional Rights.”

    Snerer vs. Cullen, 481 F. 946

    Not that you’re likely to get a fair trial in their kangaroo court.
    Sociopaths love that sweet sweet extortion money and their careerism.

    Expecting a “fair trial” in occupied America is like expecting the “government” to not be evil. How quaint and naive.

    • Replies: @obvious
  11. obvious says:

    it’s amazing how you overlook the basic problem: that there are no time limits for these warrants. often there is a legal time limit, only the warrant is never cleared. in other cases there must be a time limit because everything has time limit. In Europe and Latin America, it is clear that offenses and even warrants must “prescribe”: meaning ‘expire’. I can escape from prison in most countries and eventually I’m free anyway, just by the passage of time.

    the money you pay attorneys is wasted, always. this is the problem, everyone has to stop paying lawyers period and take everything to trial.

  12. obvious says:
    @Adam Smith

    it’s a political struggle, the victory is in the struggle.

  13. obvious says:
    @Seymour_Buhtz

    My subjective state of “knowledge” is not the issue. It’s amazing how you overlook the basic problem: that there are no time limits for these warrants. Often there is a legal time limit, only the warrant is never cleared. In other cases there must be a time limit because everything has time limit, or it goes “stale”.

    In Europe and Latin America, it is clear that offenses and even warrants must “prescribe”: meaning to ‘expire’. I can escape from prison in most countries and eventually I’m free anyway, just by the passage of time according to law.

    Money for attorneys is always the real problem. Everyone has to stop paying the lawyers period and take everything to trial, but you people trade in fear and deception. There is a reason it was lawyers, money changers and politicians who harassed and hounded Jesus.

    You could not be more wrong about the real state of things. It comes down to a computer system that is easily manipulated, badly programmed, gives false information and is wrongfully interpreted. It comes down to bad training and bad department policy. It comes down to average morons who think they know everything without experience in anything. It comes down to television, movies, media and other bullshit tropes.

  14. @animalogic

    In Australia automatic paying off fines at a low rate has a flaw. Some just keep committing offences and reach the maximum deduction allowed for somebody on unemployment or other payments. At that stage, they either go to jail (usually to loud complaints of racism because so many are Aborigines) or are allowed to continue committing offences with no further punishment except an increase in a debt that will never be paid off. Sometimes there is no reasonable alternative to jail and to hell with the whinging. Why shouldn’t a person resent going to jail? Why should anybody else care?

    Of course jails are expensive and the lash would be cheaper. The jails are overrun by idiots in spite of the desperate attempts of magistrates to keep them out. Still, with the lunatic asylums mostly shut down, a lot of those people are now in jails and it would be very hard to support flogging them

    Flogging (or the Singapore paddle) should be reserved to sane volunteers who are passed medically. Jails should only be for serious criminals and wimps and the ailing in protection. There should be fewer people who don’t belong and lower the tone of the place. People with mental problems should be in their own jails, not general jails.

    I don’t know the current legal position but, some years ago, there was no reduction in fine debt for time served because so many Aborigines were cluttering up the jails to get rid of their fines. I also have no idea whether that policy reduced the number of prisoners. [email protected]

  15. Laughing.

    I not only paid the tickets at the time. I paid them some six years later and had to address the matter again for the second time in CA. And here I am again ten years past the second address and the matter is again mucking up my present.

    So now my bike accident has to be mucked up about why I don’t drive as result and rehash a fourty year old license issue addressed not once, not twice , but three times.

    Laugh. It’s hard to keep saying the system is a mess as opposed to something more contrived and manufactured. But seeing the system as a mess just sounds far more sane.

    • Replies: @Fran Macadam
  16. @EliteCommInc.

    …and this is the state which wants its voters to overrule those of other states. It no longer wants to enforce the law now, but can’t stop punishing past offenders who already paid long ago. No to a toxic America based on toxic California.

  17. @animalogic

    In the old days it was not totally unknown for poorer Australians to enter prison voluntarily, as the fine would be “paid off” at something like $100 per day of incarceration

    Man, that would be cake.
    Last time I was in traffic court the judge was giving $10 a day credit towards fines/court costs/surcharges. so a minimum of two weeks in jail. And if you were unlucky enough to get drug testing that would run you $150 a week.

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