Politicians in Seattle are mulling over the idea that if someone trespasses that doesn’t have a home or steals because they intend to sell the items for their basic needs such as food or rent, that the act would not be treated as a crime.
KOMO News reports that the idea is referred to as the poverty defense. It is being discussed by the Seattle City Council’s Public Safety Committee and was introduced by City Council member Lisa Herbold and Anita Khandelwal, the King County’s director of the Department of Public Defense.
Supporters of the "poverty defense" say the goal is to find a different outcome than jail for the person because they are impoverished and had to resort to stealing or pitching a tent on private property.https://t.co/HrjodeOSRC
— KOMO News (@komonews) December 10, 2020
The council took no action on the proposal this week but its members are expected to discuss the proposal again in January.
The proposed act would add a new legal defense to the Seattle municipal code that would provide an affirmative defense for someone who committed a crime because they need to meet a basic need to survive.
According to Herbold, the idea is “….based on the values of our city.”
“It’s unknown if Herbold gets to define the values of a city where close to one million citizens live.
In a letter sent to the council on Oct. 30, City Attorney Pete Holmes said his staff is already doing some of what the poverty defense would provide.
“I have worked to move the City Attorney’s Office away from prosecuting property crimes that appeared to be committed out of survival necessity,” he wrote.
Seattle will no longer prosecute crimes under new “poverty defense.”
— Washington State Underground (@UnderWashington) December 9, 2020
Critics of the plan suggested that it could lead to more criminal offenses.
“It’s a green light for crime,” said Scott Lindsay, a former mayoral Public Safety Advisor who unsuccessfully ran against Holmes for city attorney.
A new element that was not part of the initial discussion last month was an exception that would allow for the reselling of stolen goods to raise money to pay for a basic need.
“If somebody stole a bunch of cell phones and intended to resell them to pay their rent, it would apply to that defense,” Council Staff Member Asha Venkataraman said.