‘It’s a mindset that we have had historically that if you are charged with a crime you should be arrested and put in jail … so we are trying to change that culture…’
(Joshua Paladino, Liberty Headlines) After two people robbed a convenience store at gunpoint, a magistrate decided not to issue an arrest warrant for one of the accused suspects.
Following the lead of California, Mecklenburg County in North Carolina has moved away from issuing arrest warrants for crimes. Instead, judges issue criminal summons, where the accused have to voluntarily come to court, WFAE reported.
When magistrates issue arrest warrants police go to arrest and imprison the suspects, with the possibility of bail, until their court date. Criminal summons, on the other hand, allow suspects to remain free until their court date.
Mecklenburg County Chief Magistrate Khalif Rhodes has implemented the sweeping transition from arrest warrants to criminal summons to prevent impoverished suspects from having to pay bail.
And Rhodes wants to attain higher office based on this approach: He’s running for district court judge. His opponent, Karen McCallum, a senior district attorney, disagrees with the changes he has made.
“The district attorneys get calls several times a week from rape victims [in cases where the alleged assailants] have been given summons,” McCallum said, according to WFAE. “I’m all in for bail reform. But violent defendants should not be given summons to court. For those of you who don’t know what summons are, it’s an invitation to court. It’s usually given to kids who are shoplifting or low-level misdemeanors.”
Arrested suspects who cannot afford bail must either pay a percentage of it—“usually 10 percent,” according to WFAE—or stay in jail until their court appearance.
Rhodes said this makes poor criminals, who already face the greatest difficulties in society, likely to fall even farther behind.
“We as a county have a bail policy that has fundamental issues that directly affects poor people, and if we want to change racial and ethnic disparities … we have to have to make changes to the policy,” Rhodes said at a Young Democrats of Mecklenburg County candidate forum.
A Charlotte defense attorney, Bill Powers, agrees with McCallum that bail reform and fewer criminal arrest warrants will benefit communities, but he said this cannot apply to violent criminals.
“I would say generally speaking there are some levels of offenses that may give one pause, or at least take an opportunity to scratch your head and ask what’s going on,” he said.
Rhodes has his supervisor, Chief District Judge Regan Miller, on his side.
“It’s a mindset that we have had historically that if you are charged with a crime you should be arrested and put in jail, pending your trial,” Miller said. “That’s really not what constitutionally we are supposed to be doing as judicial officials, so we are trying to change that culture.”
Rhodes and Miller deny that courts have acted too leniently, despite some judges’ startling decisions not to issue arrest warrants for violent crimes.
A Mecklenburg magistrate, for example, issued a court summons instead of an arrest warrant for a Pineville man accused of a felony, second-degree rape.
In another instance, police accused a Charlotte man of felony child abuse after discovering a child with a fractured arm and a burn on the leg, WFAE reported. A Mecklenburg County magistrate issued a criminal summons.
Criminal summons also do not include restraining orders, so the accused rapist can approach the alleged victim and the accused child abuser can stay near the child.
“I can’t say I’ve seen anywhere where it should have been tougher,” Miller said. “You know, each magistrate or any other judicial official should use their discretion. They are supposed to look at the information in front of them, and decide what’s appropriate to do.”
Miller said suspects issued criminal summons appear for their court dates.
Retired Superior Court Judge Richard Boner criticized magistrates for neglecting to issue arrest warrants for suspected violent criminals.
“The purpose of release conditions is two-fold,” Boner said. “One is to make sure the person will show up for their court appearance, and the second function is to protect the public while the arrestee’s case is pending. Certainly, a summons for a violent crime like armed robbery doesn’t come close to meeting the second objective.”