By: Albert B. Kelly, Mayor, City of Bridgeton
Next Monday, June 24, from 9 to 11 a.m. Volunteers of America, in conjunction with the New Jersey Courts, will be holding a warrant resolution event at the Marino Center, located at 11 Washington Street in Bridgeton. This event is an opportunity for residents to come in and deal with outstanding bench warrant issues originating specifically in a municipal court in Cumberland, Salem, or Gloucester counties—what is known as Vicinage XV.
As I think about it, resolving bench warrants is an important thing since an outstanding warrant has the very real potential to sneak up on a person when they least expect it and potentially throw their lives into chaos. For the record, warrants can be issued for a host of municipal matters and perhaps even nonviolent criminal matters. It could be anything from an unpaid parking or traffic ticket to a housing code violation, probation violation, a failure to appear, student truancy, or child support payments.
Unresolved warrants can be incredibly disruptive. I can easily picture a scenario where someone is driving home from work or the store when they get pulled over for a brake light being out and instead of a ticket or a warning to get it fixed, they get taken into custody because of an outstanding warrant that the person may have initially ignored and then forgotten about. Depending on the person, their circumstances, and the infraction involved, it could result in lost wages, child custody issues, or job loss—things way out of proportion to the original offense.
If you’ve never had an issue in the courts, that’s a good thing and to your credit. But for those who’ve gotten tangled up, I’m not going to be so quick to judge. That’s because I also know that depending on who you are, how you look, what you drive, and where you live, it’s easy to get over-enforced on and tangled up in the system. I’m also not so quick to pass judgement because there are multiple reasons why warrants get issued and just as many reasons why someone might have fallen behind on payments or failed to respond to a court date. It’s easy to do when you live on the margins.
That said, the event is for those who’ve gotten behind, acted carelessly, made a mistake, or forgot a date and then figured too much time had passed for them to get any sort of consideration. Yet at the event next Monday (June 24), if someone has municipal bench warrants that are eligible for recall, staff will assist with getting the warrant recalled and setting people up with new court dates. This applies to matters in any municipal court in Cumberland, Gloucester or Salem counties. For anything outside of these counties (i.e. outside Vicinage XV), people will be provided with information about where their court matters originate from and who to call directly.
If any of this applies to you, then the warrant resolution event is something you want to take advantage of while you can—a show of good faith that the court can take into consideration. It’s better than the alternative, perhaps on the side of the road on your way home from work or the store one solitary evening. If the reason for the warrant is nonpayment of a fine or missing a monthly payment to the court (assuming you’re on a payment plan), then it may be as simple as a new court date and then paying the fine or requesting a different payment amount.
The other thing that’s important about this event is the fact that there will be various support services present to assist anyone who comes in. In addition to court information, there will be paralegal help, employment assistance, and a host of referrals for addiction treatment, mental health, housing, social services, and support for veterans. This matters because it’s on the margins where these services are often lacking and where the “go-to” solution for communities is law enforcement and the courts and ultimately, because of the way life is on the margins, you get bench warrants. Maybe this can help.
So if you have an outstanding warrant, I encourage you to attend. If you’re not sure if you have a municipal warrant but suspect you might, then consider visiting the NJ Court’s “Municipal Court Case Search” at portal.njcourts.gov/webe5/MPAWeb/index.jsp prior to the Warrant Resolution event on June 24. Either way, it’s time to take care of business.