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.
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.