City Files Motion to Clear Certain Low-Level, Non-Violent Misdemeanor Warrants

From the Seattle City Attorney’s Office:

City Files Motion to Clear Certain Low-level, Non-violent Misdemeanor Warrants with Seattle Municipal Court

Action paves way to address cases dating back to 1996

SEATTLE – Today Mayor Jenny A. Durkan, City Attorney Pete Holmes, Councilmember M. Lorena González, and Chief Carmen Best filed a motion at Seattle Municipal Court asking the Court to consider quashing over 200 outstanding warrants for people charged or convicted of low-level non-violent misdemeanor offenses that occurred 5 to 22 years ago.  The City is taking these steps to help address inequities in Seattle’s criminal justice system and to protect public safety by ensuring that law enforcement can focus on more serious, violent offenses.

The vast majority of the 208 pre-dispositional and post-conviction 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 Seattle City Attorney’s Office filed charges on these misdemeanor cases between February 1996 and July 2013. The motion also asks that the pre-dispositional cases be dismissed.

“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,” said Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes. “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.”

The Seattle City Attorney is empowered to ask the Court to consider the motion, but the sole authority whether to grant or deny the motion lies with the Seattle Municipal Court judges. The judges face no deadline by which they must make a decision.

“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,” said Mayor Durkan. “We must continue to challenge ourselves to discover and provide more effective alternatives to prosecution and incarceration.”

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 warrants addressed in the motion are primarily for post-conviction warrants, which are issued after a defendant was found guilty at Seattle Municipal Court but failed to appear for a subsequent hearing. Pre-dispositional warrants are issued after a person doesn’t show for a court-ordered appearance prior to the Court’s or jury’s finding on the defendant’s alleged offense.

The Seattle City Attorney’s Office 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.  Per Seattle Municipal Court, people charged with the following offenses do not qualify for administrative clearing of warrants: Domestic Violence charges; Driving Under the Influence (DUI)/physical control charges; Firearms charges; Assault with Sexual Motivation charges; and Harassment charges. There has previously been no administrative process for the quashing of post-conviction warrants.

“I’d like to thank Mayor Durkan and City Attorney Holmes for petitioning the Seattle Municipal Court to quash these warrants that perpetuate cycles of inequity while doing little for public safety. Today’s announcement to quash these warrants is an important step towards providing some people with administrative relief from these warrants. But more must be done”, said Councilmember M. Lorena González (Position 9, Citywide). “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.”

This batch of warrants is the first set of post-conviction warrants the Seattle City Attorney’s Office is asking the Court to quash. In 2019, provided the Court grants the motion filed today, 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. Warrants issued in cases involving Domestic Violence, Driving Under the Influence, Sexually Motivated Assault, Firearms, and Harassment will not be considered for administrative clearing.

“Outdated, low level warrants do not make our communities safer, but instead can cause harm, particularly in communities of color,” said Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best.

The 208 defendants included in today’s motion are not required to appear or take any action as the Court considers their outstanding warrants. 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.

Members of the public can confirm whether they have an outstanding warrant by visiting the Seattle Municipal Court’s portal using the “Defendant Search” in the left-hand toolbar. Any members of the public who need clarification on their warrant may call the Seattle Municipal Court at (206) 684-5600.

For those people who want to have an outstanding warrant resolved that are not included in the motion filed today, Seattle Municipal Court is hosting a community event this Friday, November 29, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. at Delridge Community Center. Warrant holders can set a future court date there and won’t face arrest. No prosecutors will be present at this Court-sponsored event. Warrant holders can also visit the first floor of Seattle Municipal Court to schedule a hearing to have the conditions of their warrant met.