Seattle City Council considers proposal to make drug abuse, mental disorder a defense to misdemeanors

Seattle City Council considers proposal to make drug abuse, mental disorder a defense to misdemeanors

I missed this until I saw it pop up over at Bearing Arms. This report comes from KOMO News reporter Eric Johnson the person who created the Seattle is Dying special last year. According to Johnson, Seattle’s City Council is considering a proposal by councilmember Lisa Herbold which would make mental illness, addiction and poverty a defense against nearly all misdemeanors:

Scott Lindsay, the former public safety advisor for the city, said Seattle would be in a class of its own if it ultimately enacted the ordinance.

“I’m not aware of any legislation like this anywhere in the United States (or) even globally,” he said 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 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.

My Northwest has more:

“Councilmember Herbold has proposed and is seeking discussion on legislation that would, in effect, create a legal loophole for almost all misdemeanor crimes in Seattle if the defendant was suffering from addiction, mental disorders of really any type, or could connect the crime to some action related to their poverty,” Lindsay explained…

“If somebody who is struggling with methamphetamine addiction commits an assault in downtown Seattle, and they can show to the judge that they have an addiction, they would have an absolute defense to prosecution and conviction for that criminal offense,” Lindsay explained…

“I would say that everybody in Seattle, everybody who cares about Seattle, needs to wake up, look closely, and get engaged, because council members are looking to make dramatic changes to our rights and our protections under our own laws,” he added.

What this represents, if it comes to pass, is a literal get out of jail free card for the homeless. Councilwoman Herbold says this would not be an absolute defense to all misdemeanors but it would allow judges to dismiss prosecution “if they find the defendant’s conduct meets specific circumstances, a nexus between the crime committed and the circumstances the individual is in.” In other words, its additional grounds for leniency.

To fully appreciate how this will play out in Seattle you need to jump back to a report published in February of 2019 by a Seattle business group. That report looked at the city’s top 100 prolific offenders and found that, collectively, they were involved in 3,500 criminal cases.

A typical narrative for this population involves shoplifting at major retail establishments across the city followed by trading those stolen goods for cash through a stolen property broker, often at 3rd and Pike Street…

Of the 100 individuals examined based on significant recent criminal activity, all 100 of them had indicators that they struggle with substance use disorders. These indicators included police reports, prior recent arrests for drug possession, and court-ordered drug evaluations.

Essentially, this was a list of 100 homeless people with drug and/or mental problems who were stealing to feed their habit. And the report went on to say that most of these habitual offenders were so experienced with circulating through the system that they had worked out a way to avoid any real consequences:

In many of the cases reviewed as a part of this analysis, a suspect detained by police would claim to be suffering from an injury or to have swallowed heroin so that King County Jail would decline to book them until they had been seen at Harborview. If Seattle Police officers want to book the individual into jail, they must transport the suspect to Harborview (or an alternative hospital), guard them at the hospital for up to several hours, and re-transport the suspect back to the jail. Because following these steps often requires two or more officers being off the streets for an extended portion of their shift, the officers will often instead be forced to release the suspect at the hospital. In the words of one police report: “this is a tactic that is frequently deployed by misdemeanor arrestees to prevent their brief incarceration at King County Jail.”

Just a couple months after that report came out, a homeless man with 72 convictions, many of them violent, came to court in his latest case. The City Attorney and his defense counsel had decided he needed more leniency and wanted him to serve no time. At this point, Judge McKenna said enough was enough and, ignoring the plea deal worked out by the City Attorney, sent the man to jail saying, “I don’t think this court is willing to risk having someone else assaulted.”

The City Attorney was so outraged that he accused the Judge of concocting the whole thing as a stunt for the benefit of a KOMO News reporter who was present that day. That was too much even for the Seattle Times which called what the City Attorney had done a “political hit.”

So that’s the situation with homeless offenders in Seattle. They steal repeatedly and without any real consequences as it is. This new law being considered by the City Council would just make the de facto situation legal and give even more grounds for the City Attorney not to bring charges in these cases in the first place.

Meanwhile, the city’s retailers are struggling under the rampant crime, which they’ve been complaining about since at least 2018. Imagine what happens if this crime becomes effectively legal. Just last week I wrote about a very similar crime spree taking place in San Francisco. Earlier this month authorities busted a gang of thieves with nearly $8 million in merchandise stolen from local retailers. In most cases the homeless thieves, who will face little or no consequences if they get caught, get paid a dollar per item and the resellers then repost the stuff for sale on Amazon or eBay.

What the Seattle City Counsel is considering would literally turn every homeless person into a sought after commodity, thieves who can’t be prosecuted, for criminals looking to get rich. That’s a hell of way to combat homelessness.

KOMO News has a video version of their report but it can’t be embedded so you’ll have to click here to view it. King 5 also published a story about it yesterday and their video report is below:

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