‘Amnesty Day’ brings more than 60 people back to court

Dozens of people left the Gadsden County Courthouse with smiles on their faces Saturday.
More than sixty people appeared before Judge Kathy Garner that day as she lifted warrants, waived speeding fines and court costs for misdemeanors criminal and misdemeanor traffic offenses.
Freddie Watson breathed a sigh of relief as he walked out of the courthouse Saturday afternoon.
“I had all kinds of stuff…tickets and warrants,” Watson said.
Watson said he owed the courts for traffic violations and failure to appear. He also had a warrant for his arrest.
Garner lifted the warrant, ordered Watson to pay $150 and set a court date for him to appear before her.
Although the event began at 10 a.m, Garner said when she arrived at the courthouse at 8 a.m., people were already lined up outside.
As the day went on, the word had spread, and even more people showed up.
“Some people are probably a little scared,” Garner said. “We don’t set traps.”
One man said he found out about the event from his twin brother. His brother, who had his own legal matters, initially didn’t come, out of fear.
“When he told me I just walked boldly,” Marco Davis of Greensboro said. “I didn’t look back.
When he walked in the courthouse that day, Davis owed $6,000 in unpaid court costs. The judge dropped his court fees down to $600 and gave him 180 days to pay it. Some of the cases dated back to 2002.
“Lord, I thank Gadsden County,” said. “This is my county; I was raised here.”
Davis said with the fines hanging over his head, getting his license back seemed impossible.
He also said he had taken the risk of driving without license, while taking his wife back and forth for multiple surgeries.
“By the grace of God I never got pulled over,” Davis shared. “God touched their hearts, and they helped me.”
Davis called his twin brother and told him to get the courthouse.
“Come right now,” Davis said to his brother over the phone. “It’s not a trap.”
A Chattahoochee woman found out about Amnesty Day while taking her daughter to court for a traffic ticket. Although she didn’t have any legal matters of her own, she brought several people into the courthouse on multiple trips on Saturday to take care of theirs.
“I think it was a great outcome,” Tillina Jackson said. “A majority of people are afraid.”
Jackson said she hopes Garner will host another Amnesty Day so she can bring even more people.
Jackson’s efforts didn’t go unnoticed by Judge Garner.
“You’ve brought at least 5-10 people in here,” Garner said. “I’ve seen you; I’m watching.”
Garner told Jackson to see her afterwards, so she could give her a token of appreciation.
“That’s what we need…to get people in the community to let people know,” Garner said.
“This is a big deal for Gadsden County,” Sheriff Morris Young said.
The sheriff said the event was life-changing for many.
“Even traffic, if they don’t pay that fine, it can lead to criminal charges,” Young said. “We can see them in jail if they don’t take care of those fines.
The sheriff also touched on the fiscal impact the event has on the county.
“People with suspended licenses and old warrants can now seek employment,” Young said.

The sheriff said he hopes to see something similar on the felony side for some non-violent offenses.
He said there were some people who showed up with felony charges. They were referred to felon court. The same for those with cases outside of Gadsden. They were referred to the courts in those counties.
Public Defender Jessica Yeary also had a tent set up on the square, providing assistance to those who weren’t able to resolve their legal matters that day.
Garner said she worked with the state attorney’s office, public defender’s office, clerk’s office, and the probation department to make the event a success.

Erin Hill – Gadsden County News Service


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