New Jersey court considers dismissing 780,000 old warrants

New Jersey court considers dismissing 780,000 old warrants
A man walks by a police car in downtown on May 13, 2014 in Newark, New Jersey. The New Jersey Supreme Court is considering a ruling which would dismiss nearly 788,000 old warrants related to minor offenses including some traffic violations. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The New Jersey Supreme Court is considering dismissing nearly 788,000 old warrants related to minor offenses.

Here’s what you need to know

This new ruling, if it happens, will not apply to serious crimes like driving while intoxicated or reckless driving arrests. Instead, it would only apply to things like local ordinance violations, parking violations, and some minor traffic violations such as running a red light or improper passing. It would also only apply to cases that are more than 15 years old.

According to a court order that was released on Thursday, there are 787,764 open warrants from prior to 2003 for minor violations. 355,619 of these are parking tickets. Most of these cases are from 1986 or later, but a few go even further back.

If the warrants are tossed out, the violations they were issued for would also be dismissed.

What led to this?

On Tuesday, the New Jersey state judiciary released a report accusing the New Jersey municipal court system of forcing poor residents to pay excessive fines and fees in order to raise revenue for local governments. These local governments measure the success of the judges they appoint by how much revenue they collect. According to the report, these fines and fees can add up to many times the initial cost of the parking ticket.

In a memo dated April 17, New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Stuart Rabner called for the committee behind this report to convene and investigate these “disturbing practices.” “Judges occupy a unique position of authority,” Rabner argued. “Our conduct and professionalism help shape the public’s confidence in the court system.”

In one case referenced as an example by Rabner in his memo, a man was given a $239 ticket for flicking a cigarette out his car window. When he informed the judge that he was financially unable to pay the fine that same day, he was arrested and sentenced to five days in jail.

What are critics saying?

While some people, especially those with fines to pay, seemed supportive of the idea, others did not think it sounded fair.

“I think people should pay their fines no matter how long they’ve been out. On the other hand, if that proves to be impractical and the state wants to let it all go, I think the state owes something to the towns,” one New Jersey resident told WLNY-TV.