Woman might go to jail for forgetting to return library books

CHARLOTTE, Mich. — A woman failed to return two public library books on time and was faced with an arrest warrant.

The Charlotte, Michigan resident checked out two books from her local library in 2017, and says she didn’t know about the overdue fines until a few months ago, according to CNN affiliate WILX. Melinda Sanders-Jones was told in person that her books were late when she was barred a few months ago from using a printer at Charlotte Community Library. Once Sanders located them on her son’s bookshelf and returned them, she figured she would be notified of the fees, she told the station.

It wasn’t that simple. Sanders was in line to receive a promotion at her job, but her boss called her last week and said a background check revealed she had an open arrest warrant. Thinking it was a joke, Sanders laughed. When her boss said he was serious, “I was like, no, there’s no way. There’s no way I have a warrant,” Sanders recalled to WILX.

Charlotte Police Department Chief Paul Brentar confirmed the arrest warrant to CNN and said Sanders is charged with failure to return rental property.

“I really don’t think that going to jail over those two books is OK, and I definitely didn’t want to steal their property,” Sanders told WILX.

CNN has reached out to Sanders and her attorney.

After Sanders neglected to return the library’s property after several months, the Economic Crimes Unit at the county prosecutor’s office conducted an investigation, Brentar said. The unit — which handles cases involving failure to return rental property — outlines on its website that repeat offenders in such cases could face formal criminal prosecution.

Charlotte Community Library’s Director of Financial Services Marlena Arras told CNN that library privacy rules bar her from discussing individual account information with the public, but added that “there’s a lot of information that she (Sanders) is not providing.”

Charlotte Library rules dictate that when items are a week overdue, the library calls, texts or emails the person who checked them out, depending on the individual’s preference when they sign up for an account. The library then continues mailing, texting or emailing at two weeks overdue, and again at one month and three months past the due date.

At the fourth month, the library team sends a warning by certified mail stating, “If you don’t bring these materials back in two weeks, we will submit it to the Economic Crimes Unit,” Arras said. At that point, it’s considered theft of property, she said, noting that if mail isn’t able to be delivered, the library receives the returned mail.

Sanders says that she never received the late notices because she was frequently switching addresses, according to WILX. She said that she changed her phone number at one point and that she moved a lot to escape an abusive relationship, at one point ending up at a shelter for domestic violence victims, where her address was kept confidential.

The prosecutor’s office initiated the warrant on October 29, 2018, according to a spokesperson at Eaton County Courthouse.

A pretrial meeting in the case is scheduled for November 7 at 10:30 a.m., said the spokesperson.

If the books have a value of less than $200, Sanders will face no more than 93 days in prison or a maximum fine of $500, per the Michigan State Penal Code.

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