In 2018, Kenijua Carpenter received two tickets for not having auto insurance or a car tag. She already had two previous parking violations that she wasn’t able to pay. And after missing her court date in December 2019, a “failure to appear” landed on her record.
So this week, Carpenter got in line, along with hundreds of other Birmingham residents, outside the Boutwell Auditorium, all of them hoping to get their cases settled by getting their warrants removed and receiving a new court date to pay off a ticket, or pay it off then and there.
“I am glad that they do offer services like this, to give people more time,” Carpenter said.
The Birmingham Municipal Court is the largest in the state of Alabama. And since the COVID-19 pandemic began, backlog cases started to increase.
Municipal Court officials such as Judge Andra Sparks are finding resolutions to this problem by having a Rocket Docket and Operation Reset sessions like this one throughout the summer. This week is their second session, and last month during the first round of the initiative, the court saw nearly 2,000 people. That’s five times more compared to a normal court day on which judges see 300 to 400 people.
“The Rocket Docket helps us speed through a lot of traffic cases,” Sparks said. “Operation Reset is ‘Hey, I know I’ve got some jeopardy hanging over my head. I know I haven’t been to court. I’ll come to you and you can remove that warrant and reset my case.’”
However, the process to get a new court date through Rocket Docket or Operation Reset is not a quick one. Carpenter waited a little more than two hours to see the judge and receive a new court date. But she was able to get a new court date in November to pay over $600 for all of her combined ticket costs. And she’s glad she did it.
Judge Sparks said that this is an unprecedented opportunity for residents, the first time the municipal courts system have offered residents a chance to clear their records.
“This is a legitimate attempt to help people resolve backlog cases and remove warrants,” he said.
If people don’t fully take advantage of this opportunity, then they’ll be recycled back into the system of unresolved cases.
Rocket Docket and Operation Reset will be available to Birmingham residents one more time this summer, Aug. 23-25 at the Boutwell Auditorium.