Seattle weighs ‘poverty defense’ for misdemeanor crimes

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Seattle weighs 'poverty defense' for misdemeanor crimes

Seattle lawmakers are considering a law that would excuse suspects from most misdemeanor crimes if they can be linked to poverty or mental illness.

If approved, it would make the Emerald City the nation’s first to have such a measure on the books.

The Seattle City Council said the proposal, crafted with input from local public defenders, would excuse suspects from minor crimes like theft, trespassing, or assault — but not in cases of domestic violence or driving while impaired, KUOW-TV reported.

“In a situation where you took that sandwich because you were hungry and you were trying to meet your basic need of satisfying your hunger, we as a community will know that we should not punish that,” Anita Khandelwal, King County director of public defense, told the station. “That conduct is excused.”

The push comes as crime has spiked in Seattle this year, including during the Capitol Hill Occupied Zone protests in the city, Fox affiliate WSFX-TV reported.

At the same time, the city’s homeless population has risen by 5 percent since last year, the network said.

However, not everyone in the Northwest city is on board with the proposed law change.

“It sends this powerful signal that as a city government, we don’t really care about this type of criminal behavior in our city,” former city councilman Tim Burgess told KUOW.

Burgess called the proposal “a defense lawyer’s dream.”

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