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Warrant amnesty program coming to Berrien County

Instead of a ‘get out of jail free card,’ a new Berrien County program is hoping to act as a ‘stay out of jail card’ for people with outstanding bench warrants.

“Right now, we’re looking at those cases and having those individuals being able to come in, take care of their warrant without being arrested, without fear of being arrested, and being able to kind of move on with their lives,” Berrien County Court Civil/Criminal Division Administrator Carrie Smietanka-Haney said.

For nearly 800 Berrien County residents, a fresh start is now a phone call away to the trial court finance office.

“They will be able to tell them everything that they owe to be able to pay in full and have their warrant taken care of,” Smietanka-Haney said.

The Berrien County Court system is hosting its first-ever ‘Bench Warrant Amnesty Program’ from September 6 – 16, between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. every day.

“We’re hoping that we get a pretty good turnout so we can possibly do it again in the future,” Smietanka-Haney said.

The program is a house-cleaning of sorts for the courthouse.

It will allow people with outstanding bench warrants to relieve their legal debts without late fees and without time behind bars.

But this doesn’t mean criminals on the run will be catching a lucky break.

“[These are people] who have already had their case opened, closed, they’ve already been sentenced by the judge,” Smietanka-Haney said. “Those people just have not followed through with their financial obligations and have failed to appear to explain to us why they haven’t followed through with their financial obligations.”

The county’s website has a list of those eligible for the program.

If you’re on it, you can stop by the St. Joe or Niles courthouse and pay your outstanding debts in full; you’ll then be free to go.

“It just seemed like now is the right time,” Smietanka-Haney said. “We just have the right personnel, I think, in place at this point in time, and people are really wanting to try something new and trying to get people involved more in the community with getting in and active and getting rid of their warrants.”

You can only take advantage of this program if you come to the courthouse and pay your debts between Sept. 6 and 16.

If your original case was handled in the Niles courthouse, go there to pay your debts; if it was handled in the St. Joe courthouse, go there.

The court system will be accepting cash, credit card, cashier’s check or money order.

You should be prepared to pay your debt in full when you go to courthouse. 

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