Seattle asks municipal court to throw out low-level misdemeanor warrants

SEATTLE — City leaders filed a motion Tuesday asking the Seattle Municipal Court to consider voiding more than 200 warrants for people charged or convicted of low-level, nonviolent misdemeanor offenses that occurred five to 22 years ago.

The majority of cases are for people charged or convicted of prostitution and third-degree driving with a suspended license.

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In a news conference at City Hall, Mayor Jenny Durkan said the action would allow police to focus on more serious, violent crimes and help address inequities in Seattle’s criminal justice system.

“It's a hard truth, we know that throughout history of country and in this city, our criminal justice system has disproportionately affected communities of color,” said Durkan. “Of the 208 warrants we’re asking to be quashed, more than 40 percent are people of color, 35 percent of them are African-Americans even though they make up just 7 percent of our city.”

Other warrants that the motion requests be voided include graffiti, attempt to obtain controlled substance, prostitution loitering, minor in possession of alcohol, use of drug paraphernalia and park code violation.

No felony offenses are included in the motion.

The warrants covered in the motion are mostly for post-conviction warrants, which were issued after the defendant was found guilty at Seattle Municipal Court but failed to appear for a later hearing.

The motion also asks that the predispositional cases be dismissed. Predispositional warrants are issued after a person doesn’t show up for a court-ordered appearance prior to a court or jury’s finding on the offense.

Durkan, City Attorney Pete Holmes, Councilmember M. Lorena González and Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best filed the motion today at Seattle Municipal Court.

Chief Best called the move a "moral obligation" for the department to examine race and social justice.

“This allows people to be productive, allows our officers to focus on serious felonies and serious crimes,” added Best.

Holmes stressed these warrants are for people who haven’t reoffended in at least five years. He said the city currently has more than 10,000 warrants out, many for violent crimes.

“We're trying to sort the ones that are serious public safety concerns from those that are simply impairing the ability of people to get on with their lives,” explained Holmes.

The decision as to whether to grant or deny the motion will be made by Seattle Municipal Court judges.

KIRO 7 reached out to Seattle Municipal Court and received this statement:

"The court cannot comment on pending matters in accordance with the code of judicial conduct other than to acknowledge a motion was filed and is pending before the court. Generally speaking, the court periodically receives motions from the City Attorney's Office to administratively review and consider clearing older warrants. In these instances, the individual circumstances are considered by a judge and a decision is rendered. There is no set timeframe for this review. Seattle Municipal Court also conducts quarterly outreach events to help individuals resolve warrants, learn about options for addressing unpaid tickets, provide relicensing assistance and help individuals access supportive services through our Court Resource Center. Our next event is this Friday, November 30th, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. at the Delridge Community Center in West Seattle. Anyone with questions about Seattle Municipal Court warrants or tickets may attend to learn more about how to resolve these matters or contact the court at (206) 684-5600."

KIRO 7 also reached out to Sex Workers Outreach Project, who sent us this statement:

"We applaud the expungement of prostitution related offenses, and strongly encourage the city to take this sentiment a step further, and decriminalize sex workers."