D.C. Superior Court is offering a chance for people with misdemeanor bench warrants to clear them up at home.
It’s called Virtual DC Safe Surrender. For a few days over the next two weeks anyone with an outstanding bench warrant can turn themselves in online and have their hearing over the phone or on their computer.
“The offenses that we’re talking about are sort of the more minimal offenses,” said D.C. Superior Court Associate Judge Marisa Demeo. “They could be traffic offenses, like driving without a permit, driving on a suspended license. It could also be offenses that are minor such as destruction of property, shoplifting, theft and simple assault.”
According to Demeo, there are thousands of these types of warrants outstanding and this is a chance to get them dealt with quickly and easily.
“If they don’t do it virtually, it means they risk being arrested out in the community, either at their home, out on the street or even at their place of employment,” Demeo said.
For the past 18 months, there haven’t been any arrests on misdemeanors because of COVID-19. The chief judge put a stop on warrants being executed, as the court did not want to fill jails with misdemeanor offenders and expose them to the virus. But that stop will soon be lifted and the arrests will begin again.
“The warrants that are hanging over people’s heads right now are affecting their lives on a daily basis,” said Demeo. “Many of these people do know they have these warrants. They are scared about addressing the warrant. It could be affecting their employment opportunities. It could be affecting other things that they want to do like get driver’s licenses, identification, apply for different programs.”
The hope over the next two weekends is to see many cases started and finished, within hours.
This also may be a good way to get a lighter punishment.
“The prosecutors have said they will look favorably on folks who turn themselves in and we judges are committed to looking favorably on anyone who comes forward,” said Demeo.
The Virtual DC Safe Surrender will be held July 9, 10, 16 and 17 from 9:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Registration is necessary to take part.
For those with language barriers, they have interpreters lined up for foreign languages as well as American Sign Language (ASL).
When it comes to legal representation, lawyers are available for those who need them.
“Anybody who is indigent and feels that they cannot afford a lawyer, the lawyers we have lined up are able and willing to assist,” said Demeo. “So please don’t let money or concerns about paying for a lawyer get in the way of a warrant that’s out there.”
While the hearings are meant to be something you can do virtually from your own home many might not have a computer or smartphone to use. There are two probation department offices that will be open for walk-ins to use their computers. They are located at 633 Indiana Ave. NW and 2101 MLK Ave. SE.