Hennepin County is hosting its first juvenile warrant forgiveness event Saturday in north Minneapolis, where nonfelony warrants can be resolved without an arrest.
Organizers said the event is designed to build trust in the criminal justice system and meet community members where they live.
“It is a very unique event that we’ve never attempted before,” said Hennepin County District Judge Mark Kappelhoff, a juvenile court judge and event organizer. “It’s very important that the court system is perceived to be both fair and equitable, and this is a step in that direction.”
The event is geared toward minors and adults with active nonfelony warrants in juvenile court. Attendees will consult with the Hennepin County Public Defender’s Office onsite and see a judge to resolve their cases through probation, community service or dismissal, among other outcomes.
Organizers said no one will be arrested because of an active warrant.
The event will not erase someone’s record or case, although legal assistance will be on hand to help with the expungement process.
“It isn’t like we’re wiping it off the books,” Kappelhoff said of attendees’ cases. “The whole idea is to reduce the number of warrants and be more customer-service oriented.”
Attendees can also complete their community service onsite by either helping to assemble Little Free Libraries that will be given away to people at the event or by making sandwiches that will be distributed to families in need.
People face multiple barriers to appearing in court, said Chief Hennepin County Public Defender Mary Moriarty, from work conflicts to lack of transportation. Many youth, she said, deal with homelessness or lack a stable adult who can take them to court.
“By going out in the community on a Saturday, we are giving people who don’t have vacation time … the parents of youth, an opportunity to come in and take care of their case,” Moriarty said. “This is just one step in building trust in our community so people in our community will feel that they will receive justice when they come to court.”
Moriarty recommended that people who have an active felony warrant but also want to resolve a misdemeanor warrant call her office beforehand at 612-348-7530 for advice. Or, she said, at the event they should wait for advice from a public defender before proceeding.
The Minneapolis city attorney’s office will also be present to handle cases referred to them by judges. The office will address adult misdemeanor warrants in Minneapolis cases for people resolving a juvenile warrant.
Saturday’s event includes a free community resource fair for attendees and the general public that will feature snacks and games and information about services for housing, education and mental health, among others.
More than 20 community partners, including Minneapolis Public Schools, the YMCA and the Ann Bancroft Foundation will be represented.
Kappelhoff described the event as a “family-friendly” fair.
Earlier this year, several community groups and Moriarty’s office clashed with the Hennepin County bench over a warrant forgiveness event for adults, which has been held a few times in Hennepin and Ramsey counties.
Community organizers and Moriarty pushed for another adult event, while Hennepin County Chief Judge Ivy Bernhardson resisted. Hennepin County District Court spokesman Spenser Bickett said this week that the county is looking into hosting another warrant forgiveness day for adults; a date has not been set.