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Seattle Considers Allowing Criminals To Use Poverty Or Addiction As Defenses To Misdemeanors

Seattle, WA – Chemical dependency, poverty, and mental illness could soon be used as legal defenses under a radical new legislation being considered by the Seattle City Council.

The proposal is the brainchild of Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who presented the prospective ordinance change three hours into a budget committee meeting on Oct. 21, KOMO reported.

Herbold is also chair of the city council’s public safety committee, according to KIRO.

The legislation has been included in the municipal budgeting process, despite the council having virtually no public discussion about the proposed ordinance, KOMO reported.

If enacted, the ordinance would essentially legalize nearly every misdemeanor offense for defendants who are able to demonstrate symptoms of a mental disorder or symptoms of an addiction – even without a medical diagnosis.

The exception would also apply in cases where the suspect claims their crime was justified due to an “immediate basic need,” such as stealing in order to get money for rent, food, or clothing, KOMO reported.

Nearly all misdemeanor offenses – with the exception of domestic violence and driving under the influence – would be eligible for potential dismissal and excusal under the new ordinance proposal.

There were approximately 5,400 misdemeanor cases filed in 2019 that did not involve allegations of domestic abuse or driving under the influence, KOMO reported.

“I’m not aware of any legislation like this anywhere in the United States (or) even globally,” former Seattle Public Safety Advisor Scott Lindsay told the news outlet on Monday. “All cities have criminal codes to protect their citizens from criminal acts. This would essentially create a legal loophole that swallows all those codes and creates a green light for crime.”

“If you don’t feel very protected right now, this would wipe out almost all remaining protections that we have,” Lindsay added.

He noted that Herbold slipped the proposal in during a city council budget committee meeting in an attempt to “back door” normal processes, KOMO reported.

“This is a back door to get this legislation into the budget process [and] not through the normal democratic processes with transparency, dialogue, [or] public discussion,” Lindsay told the news outlet.

“This would absolutely open the floodgates for crime in Seattle, even worse than what we often currently struggle with,” he continued. “It’s basically a blank check for anybody committing theft, assault, harassment [and] trespass to continue without disruption from our criminal justice system.”

The proposal will be considered by the entire council in the event the budget committee chair, Councilwoman Theresa Mosqueda, adds it to the budget, KOMO reported.

If she decides not to include the proposed ordinance, it could still be added to the budget if five members of the full council vote to do so.

Written by
Holly Matkin

Holly is a former probation and parole officer who is married to a sheriff’s deputy. She is a regular contributor to Signature Montana magazine, and has written feature articles for Distinctly Montana magazine.

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Written by Holly Matkin


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