What one critic calls “a green light for crime” is now under consideration by the Seattle City Council.
The proposal has been bandied about as part of the city budget process. Council member Lisa Herbold said it would be a way to reduce the $20 million the city spends jailing people every year.
“This bill as proposed only provides a defense,” she said, according to KOMO. “It’ll still be up to a judge or jury to decide whether or not it’s a good defense.”
Herbold said the city cannot afford to continue its current policy.
“I think it’s a change that is intended to embrace transparency and empower and put our trust in judges and juries to have the entirety of a story in making these decisions,” she said.
However, Scott Lindsay, a former public safety adviser for Seattle, said the change would be a mistake.
“I’m not aware of any legislation like this anywhere in the United States [or] even globally,” he said, according to KOMO.
“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,” Lindsay said.
Herbold’s proposal would allow defendants to claim their acts were prompted by symptoms of addiction or a mental disorder, with no requirement to show a medical diagnosis, or because of poverty that led the accused to commit a crime to meet an “immediate and basic need.”
The only misdemeanor crimes exempted from the proposal are domestic violence and driving under the influence.
King County Director of Public Defense Anita Khandelwal said it would not be a major change.
“It’s not a radical change from where we are now,” she said. “It just offers the ability to tell the jury a little more about what may have been lying at the core of a person’s conduct.”
Lindsay, however, pushed back.
“If you don’t feel very protected right now, this would wipe out almost all remaining protections that we have,” he said.
“This would absolutely open the floodgates for crime in Seattle, even worse than what we often currently struggle with,” Lindsay said. “It’s basically a blank check for anybody committing theft, assault, harassment [and] trespass to continue without disruption from our criminal justice system.”
Khandelwal said the law offers a defense only and does not preclude anyone from being charged.
“Those people have always been charged and they will continue to be charged,” she said. “The question is will a defender be able to use this new definition of duress to mount any kind of defense? In some cases, the answer will be yes, and in some cases the answer will be no, and the person will be convicted.”
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