PORTSMOUTH, Ohio (WSAZ) -- For people with outstanding warrants, there’s a fear that if you turn yourself in, you’ll go straight to jail. But in Portsmouth on Friday, some people turned themselves in and did not get taken to jail.
The city held its first “Outstanding Warrant Day” Friday, encouraging people to come in and take care of warrants in Scioto County that were hanging over their heads. Reba Belcher said she came in because she had an outstanding warrant for running a traffic light.
“Found out I didn't have a driver's license and was given a ticket for that, and when the court date appeared, I was out of town and didn't make it,” Belcher said. “I'm nervous. I don't know what's going to go on.”
Like many people, Belcher said she thought she would be taken to jail if she turned herself in to police. She was able to get her warrant cleared Friday by pleading guilty to driving on a suspended license.
“It's a big relief. It's a load off my chest because if you don't have things taken care of, it can drag out,” Belcher said.
Not many people showed up to the event, but the organizations involved in setting it up say outstanding warrants are an issue many people face.
“The goal is to actually clear the warrant itself and to get the case to move,” Valerie Webb, an attorney for Southeastern Ohio Legal Services, said. “They don't have to worry about the possibility of being stopped and arrested at some later point in time.”
People can turn themselves in at any time on any day, but one judge tells WSAZ.com the best time to turn yourself in is in the morning because you could get on the docket to appear in court that day. If you turn yourself in sometime in the afternoon, you’ll likely spend the night in jail.
People with traffic violations or nonviolent misdemeanors, like Belcher, can usually sign their own bonds and return for a future court date. That’s not always the case for felony warrants or for violent misdemeanors, such as assault or domestic violence warrants.
“A more significant offense, a more serious offense, there is a possibility that they could be arrested, but we don't know that for sure,” Webb said.
Portsmouth Police Chief Robert Ware says allowing people to turn themselves in at events like this one reduces a strain on time and resources required to maintain statewide databases for nonviolent misdemeanor offenses.
The judge told Belcher that the worst scenario she could face is 500 hours of community service, but no jail time. She will also have to pay court costs – assuming she can get her license restored.
Judges at Friday’s event say there are as many as tens of thousands of misdemeanor warrants in Scioto County.