Legal expert says council member's proposal would give 'blanket immunity' to most misdemeanor cases in Seattle

A Seattle City Council member is proposing a drastic change to the criminal code when it comes to misdemeanor cases.

Legal experts say it would essentially provide blanket immunity for most misdemeanor cases.

During an October 21 budget hearing, Lisa Herbold who is the chair of the public safety committee brought up her proposal for several minutes.

Herbold wants to give defendants charged with misdemeanors the option to use poverty, mental illness and substance abuse as defenses. Judges would be allowed to use those categories to dismiss a case. 

“Community is asking that the council consider this as a budget legislation,” Herbold said.

Herbold went on to say that around 90% of cases prosecuted are represented by a public defender and that her proposal would save the city money. She also said it could potentially impact the jail contract tying it to the budget process.

“This is an outrageous work around of the normal council process, this should go through a normal legislative process, engage, dialogue, feedback all of that has been skipped here,” public safety expert Scott Lindsay said.

Lindsay says he is disturbed the issue was not brought up in a public safety committee meeting and the public not given a lengthy process to weigh in.

With the exception of DUI’s and domestic violence cases, Lindsay says it would compel judges to dismiss cases.

"This is a fundamental rewrite of Seattle's criminal code," Lindsay said.

Everything from assaults, theft to sexual exploitation could be forgiven.  

Q13 News requested an interview with Herbold on Tuesday who declined to give us a one on one interview but she sent a statement. Herbold says the goal is to give judges options to consider duress and that judges would not be required to dismiss cases. She denies that her proposal would give defendants blanket immunity and she says the notion that it was a backdoor move is nonsense.

But Lindsay who is an attorney says he’s analyzed the language of the proposal and if council adopts as it stands, he says it would be catastrophic for Seattle.

 “The loophole is so gaping, the threshold to prove symptoms of a mental disorder is so low all person has to do is claim that they suffer from depression and anxiety or some prior undiagnosed incident to be excused from a criminal act,” Lindsay said.

Last year Seattle Police made around 12,000 arrests that were not DUI or domestic violence related.

About 5,400 of those 12,000 cases were charged in Municipal Court, handled by the city attorney’s office.

On Tuesday, a spokesperson for Pete Holmes said they were not aware of Herbold’s specific proposal. 

But Myrle Carner with Crime Stoppers of Puget Sound, that relies on tips from the community to solve crimes, says he is worried about the long term impacts.

“What’s going to happen is people are going to say why should I call anyway why do I want to call an anonymous tip line when I know right up front that they aren’t going to do anything with it and it’s a misdemeanor and what we call a gateway to felonies,” Carner said.

The issue is up for discussion Wednesday morning during the 9:30 a.m. budget hearing.