Herbold: Response regarding her proposal on redefining misdemeanor crime pleas
District 1 City Councilmember Lisa Herbold responds to the comments, questions and criticism that came up as a result of her effort to redefine the terms “duress” and “de minimis” with regard to misdemeanor crimes in Seattle:
There has been a lot of media attention last week on a proposed policy change still in development but discussed first in last week’s Budget Committee as well as written about in my weekly blog post last week.
During the budget process, after the Executive delivers their proposal Councilmembers submit rough ideas that are then presented during “Issue Identification.” These can be questions, high-level proposals, or more specific proposals. Next the Council moves to “Council Budget Actions” and Statements of Legislative Intent, these proposals were discussed last week.
The City currently spends approximately $20 million a year on incarceration, yet the progress on addressing the issues of behavioral health disorder or meeting basic human needs of those circling in and out of our carceral system continues to lag. In order to better meet these needs and improve public safety outcomes - we must continue to ramp up interventions to connect people before arrest and to do so by taking referrals directly from community members.
This proposal would not, as some have said, provide “blanket immunity from most misdemeanors,” nor would this proposal “provide an absolute defense.” Like any prosecution, the adjudication outcome lies with the Court. This legislation would allow the judge and/or jurors to consider not just what may have happened but why it may have happened and whether the role of poverty and behavioral health struggles led to the alleged violation. The legislation reflects a confidence in the judges and residents of Seattle to determine, in the words of the Seattle Municipal Code, what conduct merits condemnation as criminal.
As we’ve seen in the massive national and international protests in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, it is past time that we reexamine our systems which often perpetuate homelessness and economic instability.
Incarceration is known to significantly increase the risk of housing instability and homelessness. Thank you to Council President Gonzalez for sharing with me a report from The Prison Policy Initiative where it is noted that “formerly incarcerated people are almost 10 times more likely to be homeless than the general public.” This legislation will provide an alternative path forward for judges seeking to assist individuals who’ve committed misdemeanors that can be clearly traced back to mental illness, substance abuse disorders, homelessness and poverty.
The legislation is, as I write above, in development. This proposal came out with all other proposals in the “issue identification” step of the budget process. In “issue identification,” Central Staff and Councilmembers – in addition to making proposals to cut or add funds - flag the need for relevant pieces of budget legislation that could or should be adopted. That we’ve generated significant public awareness on this issue and have not yet introduced a bill will serve the Council and the public in our ongoing efforts to develop the bill. I appreciate hearing the supportive statements in Budget Committee from the Councilmembers who serve on my Public Safety and Human Services Committee as well as the supportive letter from City Attorney Pete Holmes.
With respect, the "supportive letter" from Pete Holmes is not really supportive of the proposed legislation. Read it. It basically says:
1. Much of what is proposed is already done, esp for misdemeanor crimes against persons--ie, it wouldn't reduce current incarceration.
2. More important than anything proposed is developing solutions to the addiction, mental health & poverty that are root causes--ie. it wouldn't address the *real* problems.
3. Major amendments to the proposal are needed.
This can't fairly be construed as a "supportive letter".