The return of the warrant assistance program will offer a sense of relief for those trying to avoid jail in Comanche and Cotton counties.

On July 1, District Attorney Fred Smith’s office will start the ball rolling on the assistance effort by working with the defendants. The program designed to ease jail overcrowding and to assist offenders from falling further behind on their financial obligations. But unlike prior amnesty periods, this one is more inclusive for those with outstanding warrants. It’s a way of helping offenders who may have confusion about appearances since the closure and reopening of the courthouses due to COVID-19.

“This one will be a little different though, because we are offering assistance for both misdemeanors and felony cases,” said First Assistant District Attorney Kyle Cabelka. “Part of the reason we are doing this is that we have found that during the peak of the virus in March through May, most cases that were set were automatically continued by judges without the defendant being present. Now we’re having hearings come back around and defendants are not showing up, so bench warrants are being issued.”

Cabelka said most of the cases targeted are simply for a lack of payments being made.

“We are hoping that if folks will come in, make sure their payments are up to date, then we can get their hearings reset and send them on their way,” he said. “This way, the defendants won’t have to worry about being arrested on the warrant and it will save time and money on the county and law enforcement by not having to house these people in our jail.”

Those with outstanding warrants will have the opportunity to voluntarily appear and get back into good graces with the court. The offender will appear in person at court and arranges to see a judge. Following a judicial review, the offender will be allowed to renew the bond and set an appearance. You can get through the process without being booked into jail, Cabelka said.

By including felony warrants for those with non-violent felony charges, it is hoped the program will allow the numbers of inmates at the Comanche County Detention Center to remain under capacity. The jail’s just under-300 person capacity has been reached or exceeded continually since its opening in 2002.

Just this week, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (ODOC) returned prisoners held elsewhere due to the jail becoming a hot spot for COVID-19’s spread in recent months. Well over 150 inmates and jail staff had been infected when the ODOC took over operations in May.

Cabelka said that interested defendants can call the district attorney offices in Lawton and Walters or come by the respective courthouses. They will be able to go before a judge, receive a new court date and have their warrant recalled.

For more information and to get a hearing scheduled, call the Comanche County District Attorney’s office, 580-585-4444; or the Cotton County branch, 580-875-6111.

Written by Scott Rains: scott.rains@swoknews.com.

Written by Scott Rains: scott.rains@swoknews.com.

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