City to vacate old, low-level warrants

This morning at a press conference in City Hall, Mayor Durkan, Chief of Police Best, City Attorney Holmes and City Councilmember Gonzalez announced that they would be submitting a motion to Seattle Municipal Court to vacate 208 outstanding low-level misdemeanor arrest warrants.

Mayor Durkan, with City Attorney Holmes, Chief of Police Best, and City Councilmember Gonzalez

The move is one more piece in the city’s efforts to reform the criminal justice system, which numerous studies have shown to have a disproportionate impact on communities of color.

The 208 warrants are between five and twenty years old, and none of the individuals have re-offended in the past five years, according to Holmes. The two main categories of offenses represented are prostitution (107 people) and “driving with a suspended license in the third degree,” aka “driving while poor” (73 people). Other categories include:

  • graffiti (10 people);
  • attempt to obtain a controlled substance (5 people);
  • prostitution loitering (5 people);
  • minor in possession of alcohol (3 people);
  •  use of drug paraphernalia (3 people);
  • park code violation (2).

35% of the individuals are African-American, well above the African-American community’s overall representation in Seattle.

Durkan emphasized that this move does not affect warrants issued for domestic violence, DUI, sexually-motivated crimes, firearms-related crimes, and harassment.

All four officials noted that these long-outstanding low-level warrants do not make the city safer. “We are focused on those crimes that impact our community the most,” Durkan said. Gonzalez said that this effort would min fact make the community safer by allowing people to come out of hiding without fear that an old low-level warrant would lead to their arrest.

“If you haven’t re-offended after 5-plus years of a warrant being issued, I’m comfortable asking the Court to dismiss your warrant,”  Holmes said in a related press release. “Public safety is well-served in this action, as this clears the field to allow officers to focus on finding those people who’ve committed more serious offenses. Further, people with a cleared warrant will be much more likely to engage with police, report crimes they may witness, and get on with their lives.”

Assuming that the Seattle Municipal Court grants the city’s motion to quash the warrants (which is likely), the city is working on a process to notify the individuals. That frequently proves tricky, according to Durkan and Holmes, because the individuals often have moved (a leading reason why the warrants are still outstanding after so long). But Holmes pointed to the Seattle Municipal Court web site that allows people to check whether they have any outstanding warrants.

Gonzalez said that next year she looked forward to leading a city-wide effort to look at further reform and alignment of Seattle’s criminal justice system. For his part, Holmes said that today’s move is just the first installment of what he expects his office to do on a regular basis. “Stay tuned,” he said. “We will be doing more of these.”


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