Editorial: Amnesty could stop avalanche of legal trouble | TribLIVE.com

Editorial: Amnesty could stop avalanche of legal trouble


A little amnesty can be a good thing.

A lot of people in Allegheny County have a chance to find that out.

The county is swimming in about 450 bench warrants issued to people who didn’t show up at court appearances.

It’s just about the easiest way to guarantee a warrant for your arrest, just like showing up at court and saying “Here, Your Honor,” when your name is called is pretty much the easiest way to not get arrested.

But at any preliminary hearing date or any pre-trial conference or formal arraignment or other court appearance, someone doesn’t show up. Bail is revoked. Orders are signed. A case that might have been heading down a meandering bureaucratic path toward probation or accelerated rehabilitative disposition is detoured by a second arrest.

Sometimes it’s not just the defendant blithely ignoring the summons. Anything could complicate a court date. Car trouble. Weather. Sick kids. A hospital stay. But without clearing it with the court in advance, it’s all just failure to appear, and that means a bench warrant.

The Allegheny County Sheriff’s and Pre-Trial Services offices want to cut back on the stack of warrants and are offering amnesty to anyone who contacts them by Feb. 1 to schedule a new date.

This is both a second chance for the original case and an opportunity to not get sucked into the quicksand of an ever-worsening legal swamp.

Imagine it like the amnesty libraries will sometimes offer. You’ve had that copy of a Stephen King book so long that it got buried under magazines and mail and you forgot it was even there. Meanwhile, the library just wants the book back, so they put out a call: Here’s your chance to bring it back without a fine.

Amnesty is a situational pardon. In this instance, it doesn’t forgive the alleged crime that is bringing people into the courthouse in the first place. It’s just helping them reset the clock to the original problem.

A criminal court case is frequently a snowball of bad decisions and unfortunate circumstances that just keeps rolling and gaining speed and size.

Hopefully the county’s offer will help some of those 450 or so people avoid an avalanche.

Categories: Opinion | Editorials
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.