Seattle moves to toss ‘driving while poor’ warrants

In an effort to help end the often unfair and inequitable cycle that can start from even the lowest level criminal conviction, the City of Seattle has asked that a few hundred warrants for non-violent crimes be tossed out.

“We’re acting to make Seattle a more just city, to recognize that our criminal justice system disproportionately impacts people of color, and to ensure that our officers can focus on the most violent offenders and protecting public safety,” Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a statement. “We must continue to challenge ourselves to discover and provide more effective alternatives to prosecution and incarceration.”


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The 208 defendants included in the motion brought by City Attorney Pete Holmes are not required to appear or take any action as the court considers their outstanding warrants, the city says. 111 of the warrant holders are male, 96 are female, and one is unknown. 101 of the warrant holders are White, 73 are Black, 9 are Asian, 5 are Native American, and 20 were not identified.

The city says the majority of the 208 warrants are for people charged or convicted of Prostitution (107 people) and for Driving with a Suspended License in the 3rd Degree (73 people), which is commonly known as “driving while poor.”

The cases were filed between February 1996 and July 2013. If the motion is granted, the 208 cases will be in the hands of Seattle Municipal Court judges to dismiss.

Other warrants that the motion requests be quashed includes Graffiti (10 people); Attempt to Obtain Controlled Substance (5 people); Prostitution Loitering (5 people); Minor in Possession of Alcohol (3 people); Use of Drug Paraphernalia (3 people), and Park Code Violation (2 people). No felony offenses are included in the motion, the city says.

Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best supported the move. “Outdated, low level warrants do not make our communities safer, but instead can cause harm, particularly in communities of color,” she said in the city’s announcement of the motion.

Seattle City Council member Lorena González praised the motion but said more must be done. “Over the next year, I will lead Seattle City Council’s efforts, in partnership with the Mayor, the City Attorney, the Seattle Municipal Court Presiding Judge, public defenders, and impacted community members, to develop a comprehensive strategic plan that will prioritize and align the City of Seattle’s municipal criminal legal system based on prior community-driven recommendations,” González said.

The Seattle City Attorney’s Office currently works with Seattle Municipal Court to quash most pre-dispositional warrants on a quarterly basis, administratively dismissing most cases which are not cleared within seven years. If the motion is granted, the Seattle City Attorney’s Office will individually review each outstanding misdemeanor warrant older than five years to assess whether any of those additional cases should be considered by the Court for quashing in 2019.

Members of the public can confirm whether they have an outstanding warrant on the Seattle Municipal Court’s portal using the “Defendant Search.” The Seattle Municipal Court is hosting a community event Friday, November 29, 10 AM – 4 PM at Delridge Community Center where warrant holders can set a future court date and won’t face arrest. “No prosecutors will be present at this Court-sponsored event,” the announcement reads.

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8 thoughts on “Seattle moves to toss ‘driving while poor’ warrants

  1. Likely no one will note this much in the future, but here’s yet another signpost in the decline and fall of Seattle. If y’all keep defining deviancy down, what level of crime, turpitude and just general scummy behavior will you not tolerate? Figure if out, people: the folks you now don’t bust at this penny-ante level will now feel free to step up their game to misdemeanor and even low-end felony crimes. And will these alleged political leaders THEN decriminalize THOSE seemingly petty crimes?! Y’all are already on the proverbial slippery slope, guys. Time to start clawing your way back up, or you’re going to go so much lower so very quickly.

    • Why don’t “y’all” go back to Arkansas and worry about their crime? There are lots more important things for police to be spending their time on, than trying to round up 100 people on nuisance prostitution charges.

    • I doubt you demanded accountability when no Wall Street crooks went to prison for causing the financial crisis. Nobody in the real estate and the lending industry went to prison for the subprime mortgage crisis either. No, we can’t have big government and its pesky regulations stop the country club crowd from racke…..practicing capitalism.

  2. “The cases were filed between February 1996 and July 2013. If the motion is granted, the 208 cases will be in the hands of Seattle Municipal Court judges to dismiss.”

    Two points worth noting here:
    1. These warrants date back from 5-22 years. Do we seriously want to prioritize our cops to picking up people charged with non-violent offenses dating back up to 22 years ago? Like they don’t have more serious priorities already?
    2. Maybe I misunderstand this, but if I’m reading it correctly–this does not clear them of the offense. It does NOT dismiss the charge. It’s the warrant to go out and pick them up that are cleared. This hysteria about them “going on to bigger and better things” is a non-issue that would’ve long since addressed itself, if they *HAD* in fact subsequently committed more serious offenses. Any judge contemplating dismissing any charge would examine their history after the offense in question, and decide whether to dismiss the charge. If they’d been charged with something more serious later, the outstanding warrant would’ve also have shown up at that time.

    Maybe I’ve got this all wrong, but this doesn’t sound like the “they’ll go on to KILL!” issue you guys are making it out to be.

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