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Bill to create alternative to custody warrants passes House

A bill that would provide an alternative to warrants requiring police officers to take a person into custody if they have missed a court date for certain low-level offenses has passed the House.

HF2539 would establish a “sign and release warrant” whereby a police officer, when discovering a person has missed a scheduled court date, would ask the person to sign a citation describing the need to appear in court, and then let the person go.

The bill was prompted by deadly interactions with police after traffic stops, such as the one that led to the death of Daunte Wright last month, said Rep. Jamie Long (DFL-Mpls), its sponsor.

Police were attempting to take Wright into custody because he missed a court date that he didn’t know about because the summons was delivered to an incorrect address, Long said.

“Daunte Wright’s tragic death highlighted several shortcomings of our criminal justice system,” Long said.

The bill passed 73-59, as amended, Thursday and sent to the Senate, where there is no companion.

Republicans said the bill would not provide sufficient incentive for a person getting a new summons to show up to that new court date.

Rep. Paul Novotny (R-Elk River) unsuccessfully offered an amendment that would have made it a misdemeanor if a person who gets a sign and release warrant then skips the new court date.

Long said several jurisdictions in the state have taken this approach and had good rates of appearances at future court dates.

He said the intent of the bill is to “lower the temperature” in interactions between police and individuals who are no threat to public safety.

“This is a common sense change we can make to policing to ensure that individuals who interact with police officers can get home safely,” Rep. Samantha Vang (DFL-Brooklyn Center) said in a statement.

Vang represents Brooklyn Center, the city where Wright was killed. She is a co-sponsor of the bill.

“These are the kinds of changes we must make so that officers can focus more on emergency situations and Minnesotans of color can feel safe in their communities,” she said. “Our goal is to prevent another traumatic event while allowing our justice system to function appropriately.”

A sign and release warrant issued by a court would not authorize the person’s arrest nor would it require them to post bail or comply with any other conditions of release.

Courts would be required to issue sign and release warrants instead of custody warrants for certain misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor offenses with the exception of:

  • driving while impaired;
  • violation of a domestic abuse order for protection;
  • fourth- or fifth-degree assault;
  • domestic assault;
  • fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct;
  • malicious punishment of a child;
  • neglect or endangerment of a child;
  • violation of a harassment restraining order;
  • harassment or stalking;
  • interference with an emergency call;
  • nonconsensual dissemination of private sexual images; or
  • violation of a domestic abuse no contact order.

Other amendments considered

An amendment unsuccessfully offered by Rep. Peggy Bennett (R-Albert Lea) would have added several gun-related gross misdemeanor violations to the list of exceptions that would disqualify a person from being eligible for a sign and release warrant.

“We should be having zero tolerance for gun crimes,” she said.

Long said the list of exclusions was already comprehensive enough by excluding persons committing felonies and serious gross misdemeanors from being eligible for sign and release warrants.

One amendment offered by Novotny was successful. It wouldn’t permit courts to issue a sign and release warrant unless the original summons notice was mailed to the defendant’s last known address and was returned as undeliverable.


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