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Lisa Herbold
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Seattle council likely to table Herbold misdemeanor crime proposal for later in 2020

Seattle Councilmember Lisa Herbold. (Joe A. Kunzler Photo, AvgeekJoe Productions, [email protected])

Discussion around a recent proposal from Seattle Councilmember Lisa Herbold to allow courts to dismiss misdemeanor charges for crimes committed as a result of behavioral health issues or poverty will likely be on hold until later this year.

Former Seattle public safety advisor raises alarm over Herbold proposal

The proposal was originally floated by Councilmember Herbold as an addition to the 2021 budget. Because of the size and scope of the measure though, councilmembers ultimately agreed that it would be better to “take a step back” and save it for a larger discussion as independent legislation later on in 2020.

According to SCC Insight, councilmembers expressed support for the basic idea behind the legislation, but had misgivings about various aspects of it. That was echoed by Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, who issued a memo to the council providing legal input into what such a measure might look like if it was to be successfully implemented.

Holmes noted that “several of the provisions” in Herbold’s proposal are actually already common practices for the City Attorney’s Office, and that passing the measure at the council level could be helpful in codifying those policies.

He also voiced concerns that the measure “could negatively impact our existing diversion efforts,” but that with some reworking, it could end up containing “constructive revisions to Seattle’s criminal legal code.”

In terms of specific changes he would make, he cited how Herbold’s bill treats crimes stemming from behavioral health issues and poverty the same, and that a more effective version would treat them separately within their own unique contexts.

To that, Holmes suggested treating smaller crimes committed as a result of living in poverty as “an affirmative defense that a defendant can raise at trial,” while behavioral health misdemeanors would be “better structured as a diversion alternative that a judge can order where certain criteria are present.”

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“When a behavioral health crisis causes a person to assault a stranger, dismissing the case without the judge also directing the person to treatment could potentially leave that person’s unique condition unaddressed,” Holmes pointed out.

With Seattle councilmembers largely focused on the 2021 budget process, Herbold acknowledged last week that the bill will likely be tabled until late November or early December, where it can be re-introduced as standalone legislation in the council’s public safety committee (which Herbold chairs).

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