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Jefferson County Attorney taking applications to clear certain bench warrants

Inside of a courtroom with wood paneling
Jacob Munoz
Citizens facing bench warrants for nonviolent, low-level offenses in Jefferson County can apply until Feb. 2, 2024, to have them removed.

Louisville judges can issue bench warrants against citizens who violate court orders, including for not appearing in person. This month, the Jefferson County Attorney’s Office is renewing an opportunity to clear those warrants.

People facing active bench warrants risk arrest and jail time. But those wanted for nonviolent, low-level offenses in Louisville can apply this month to have those warrants dropped for free.

A applications will be accepted online or at the Louis D. Brandeis Hall of Justice downtown until Feb. 2. More information is available on the ACLU of Kentucky’s website.

The amnesty opportunity doesn’t apply to people facing more serious offenses:

  • Violent misdemeanors and violent Class D felonies
  • Domestic violence offenses
  • Cases involving a gun
  • Class A, B and C felonies

Qualified applicants will be ordered to attend an expedited hearing for their case at the Hall of Justice on either Feb. 9, 10 or 12. They can select a preference for which day to appear.
Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell said at a press conference Monday that about 450 people were able to resolve their cases during the last amnesty round in mid-2022. His office and the ACLU of Kentucky said in a joint press release a limited number of cases will be heard in February, but did not provide an exact number.

O’Connell added that the opportunity to clear warrants helps victims, not just those accused of crimes, find relief.

“These incidents can be very detrimental and have an effect on a victim's livelihood, and too often victims are not at the forefront of innovative approaches to improve our justice system,” O’Connell said.

He said the ACLU of Kentucky and other groups have partnered with the county attorney’s office to collect donations for covering defendants’ payments to victims.

Amber Duke, the ACLU of Kentucky’s executive director, said at the press conference that the organization is interested in seeing fewer bench warrants issued and reducing the number of people in jail.

More than a dozen people died at Louisville Metro’s jail from late 2021 to mid-2023, and an audit highlighted issues that contributed to the crisis.

Duke said that some people might not attend court because of issues like access to child care and a lack of reminders.

“These are things that are barriers, or that have folks moving into a bench warrant situation and entrench them deeper into the system,” Duke said.

Carla Wallace, a co-founder of Louisville Showing Up for Racial Justice and a board member of the national SURJ organization, said cash bail reform is part of improving the justice system along with clearing bench warrants.

“Not everybody's on the same page about what that cash bail reform looks like. But part of it is that we have a lot of people that end up in the jail that are there because they can't pay even $50 or $100 to get out,” Wallace said.

There are about 1,250 people incarcerated at the Louisville jail, which has a maximum capacity of around 1,350, according to data published by the city.

This story has been updated to clarify Carla Wallace's positions with Louisville Showing Up for Racial Justice and SURJ national.

Jacob is LPM's Business and Development Reporter. Email Jacob at jmunoz@lpm.org.

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