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Florida Offers Defendants New Homeless Court

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By Kamika Dunlap on March 11, 2010 9:45 AM

Legal problems homeless people face are often exacerbated by their inability to travel to court.

So, why not bring a new homeless court to them?

That's exactly what Pinellas County Florida judges have done by rolling out a new system to bring the courts to homeless defendants.

According to the Maco County News, the county's new homeless court is modeled after the one in San Diego in an effort to quickly resolve petty crimes.

The homeless court sessions are held at special times and in non-traditional locations that make it more convenient for the homeless population. For example, courts are held on Saturdays at homeless shelters or the Salvation Army.

These locations are intended to help defendants who miss court dates on minor charges. Their past failures to appear in court fines often have resulted in warrants for their arrests.

Each day they're jailed typically costs taxpayers $100.

But through homeless court, defendants are aided by pro bono attorneys to resolve misdemeanor charges, like trespassing, public urination, possession of open alcohol containers and sleeping in a park or on the beach.

Cities have been watching the Homeless Court in San Diego, where a type of gentle justice is offered. San Diego's homeless court has been in operation for about 20 years. Today, it is being copied by half a dozen California cities and in several other states.

If people can prove they're serious about turning around their lives, many misdemeanor charges are dropped. In general, they can substitute community service or participation in job training programs in lieu of payment.

So far Pinellas County has chipped away at more than 60,000 outstanding warrants for homeless defendants.

 

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