When courts get tired of waiting for offenders to pay fines and keeping their paperwork on file, they offer amnesty on the fees incurred from not paying the fine in the first place. In Villa Rica, the municipal court’s warrant amnesty program has earned statewide recognition.
In September and May 2007, the court offered amnesty for anyone willing to pay their fines or come in on a failure-to-appear warrant. Court Clerk Shelly Frost said those two months of amnesty brought in money the city wouldn’t have otherwise seen and cleared up 19 percent of the court’s backlog of cases, including some going back to 1997.
“We just had so many warrants, and it was money we were sitting on and not collecting,” Frost said.
At Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, Frost and the Villa Rica Police Department received an award from the Georgia Council of Court Administrators for their amnesty program. Frost said courts around the state could submit projects they did over the year for consideration.
“I think the difference with ours was Shelley took the time to research addresses and sent out postcards,” Police Chief Michael Mansour said.
Frost said sending out postcards was a cost-effective way to let people know they could pay off their fines at original price. By looking up people’s addresses, she said she also found out that some people had moved away - and a few had passed away. Some people, she said, weren’t even aware they owed so much or that their license had been suspended as a result of owing money.
Mansour said most of the warrants were for traffic violations.
“Some people were coming in on a seat belt fine for $15 and having to pay $100 in fines,” he said.
Other departments have had success with warrant amnesties in the past. Carrollton Police Chief Joel Richards said his department has amnesty months periodically.
“We did a year or two ago and had real good success with it. It clears up a lot of your warrants that gets backlogged that you wouldn’t go out and serve,” he said. “It gives the people a chance to take care of it without it being a bigger financial burden.”
Frost said warrant amnesty months will continue twice a year in Villa Rica. The next one is planned for May.