Seattle to allow a 'community panel' to determine sentencing for criminals

Instead of facing a judge or jury, an accused will be offered an alternative where a non-profit community panel will decide how they are to be held accountable for their crime.

Ari Hoffman Seattle WA

On Tuesday the King County Council in Washington state, voted to approve funding for a criminal justice "diversion" program that will let community groups—not judges or juries—decide what punishment, if any should be handed out for accused felons under the guise of ending racism and restorative justice.

The county council voted unanimously to approve the Community Restorative Pathways program and funded it for $12.59 million. The program is slated to begin in mid-2021 and be implemented no later than the start of 2022. The budget for the program comes from money that would have gone to the King County Sheriff's Office which is in the process of being defunded.

Instead of facing a judge or jury, juveniles and adults accused of a first-time, non-violent felony offense will be offered an alternative where a non-profit community panel will decide how the accused person can be held accountable for their crime. The plan does not address Sixth Amendment conflicts which ensures citizens the right to a speedy trial and an impartial jury of their peers. The community groups and panel members have not yet been specified.

Community Pathways includes "…appropriate services and support for harmed parties, and restitution so that youths who cannot pay fines and other financial obligations do not end up in a cycle of probation violations and incarceration."

Accountability would not include jail or even a conviction, Dan Satterberg, prosecuting attorney for King County, told KOMO News. He did not define what accountability means.

"That's up to the community groups," he said, adding that it would target 800 juveniles and 1,000 adults to start. "These are low-level felonies, property offenses, no domestic violence, no sexual assault cases, decisions you would make if you were in my shoes." The King County Prosecutor's Office has 7,000 cases waiting for disposition, double the amount in a normal year.

Pathways claims that suspects accused of violent crimes would not be eligible for the diversion program, and if the offender fails to follow through with the community groups recommended punishment or accountability, the original criminal charges could still be pursued in court.

Critics of the plan cite the ongoing revolving door justice system that they claim has led to the spike in crime in the area. Repeat offenders with dozens of convictions are repeatedly released and continue to remain a danger to the public.

This follows Seattle City Council member Lisa Herbold, chairperson of the Seattle City Council's Public Safety Committee, introducing legislation to "excuse and dismiss" almost all misdemeanor crimes committed in Seattle by "persons with symptoms of addiction or mental disorder." Herbold also announced a proposed timeline and budget for heroin injection sites in Seattle. In King County's original plan for the injection sites it included services for "first time users."

Scott Lindsay, former public safety advisor and special assistant for police reform to the City of Seattle said in an analysis of the proposal that "Councilmember Herbold's proposal would create a legal loophole that would open the floodgates to crime in Seattle, effectively nullifying the city's ability to protect persons and property from most misdemeanor crimes."

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, wrote a letter to the Seattle City Council to support the Herbold proposal "…to redefine the terms "duress" and "de minimis" to create new means of defense for certain misdemeanor-level offenses rooted in poverty, behavioral health crises, or substance abuse."

According to Holmes "…several of the provisions in this bill codify what my office already practices. Since I became City Attorney in 2010, 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 goes on to suggest changes to the language of laws in place to avoid challenges to the legislation to help codify it into law and even gives tips on how to structure a defense against his office. The letter was cced to Seattle municipal judges as well as the Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan.

Even in the midst of spiking crime in Seattle, King County Executive Dow Constantine has pledged to phase out the King County Jail after the pandemic is over, what he described as a cost-cutting move.

King County appears to be set on a path to impose an entire wish list of progressive agenda policies on the citizens of the area who may have no recourse in the entirely Democrat controlled government.


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