The Seattle City Council is considering changing the criminal code so that criminals who have committed trespassing, theft, or even simple assault could be exempt from prosecution if they could prove that their survival depended on their criminal acts.
Councilmember Lisa Herbold and Anita Khandelwal, the King County’s director of the Department of Public Defense, introduced the idea of changing the criminal code. Herbold first brought the idea of what is nicknamed the “poverty defense” in October. KOMO reported at the time:
If approved, the ordinance would excuse and dismiss — essentially legalizing — almost all misdemeanor crimes committed in Seattle by offenders who could show either: Symptoms of addiction without being required to provide a medical diagnosis; Symptoms of a mental disorder; or Poverty and the crime was committed to meet an “immediate and basic need.” For example, if a defendant argued they stole merchandise to sell for cash in order to purchase food, clothes or was trying to scrape together enough money for rent. The accused could not be convicted.
“The advocates’ proposal covers all misdemeanor crimes, except DUIs and domestic violence cases,” KIRO 7 noted.
Khandelwal stated, “In a situation where you took that sandwich because you were hungry and you were trying to meet your basic need of satisfying your hunger; we as the community will know that we should not punish that. That conduct is excused,” according to KOMO.
Former Seattle City Councilmember Tim Burgess slammed the idea, saying it issued a “powerful signal” that the Seattle city government doesn’t “really care about this type of criminal behavior in our city,” adding, “It leans on the scales heavily in favor of certain individuals based on status, and it says to others, ‘you don’t matter.’”
Scott Lindsay, a former mayoral Public Safety Advisor, echoed, “It’s a green light for crime. If you are engaged in 100 different misdemeanors that are in our criminal justice system code, you are not going to be held liable. You are not going to be held accountable.”
Khandelwal said the current system is “meeting nobody’s needs … This is not that we don’t care about the business community or about people who have experienced harm. It is that we know that this process – this processing of human beings through the system – is harmful to our clients and again very racially disproportionate, and also not getting business owners what they need either,” as KUOW reported.
KTTH Radio Host Jason Rantz told Fox News, “We have this culture of lawlessness. We have a prolific offender problem where pretty much the same 100 or so individuals keep breaking the law, not seeing any punishment, and then doing the same thing over and over and over again. And so, all you’re doing is making it easier for those people to continue that behavior. And, the fear is, of course, you know, ‘Does this only apply to Seattle residents?’ And, if not, does that mean someone can come from outside of the region who is destitute, who is low income, [and] break a whole bunch of laws knowing that if you do it in Seattle, you’re not going to get in any trouble?”