Cops & Courts

City Files a Motion to Vacate All Marijuana Convictions

Durkan said Seattle must do its part to give its residents "a clean slate."

By Hayat Norimine April 27, 2018

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Seattle city attorney Pete Holmes on Friday filed a motion for the Seattle Municipal Court to vacate all marijuana convictions and dismiss the charges. 

"Dismissing this charge reflects Seattle's values and recognizes the negative collateral consequences of a drug conviction," Holmes wrote, like finding housing, employment, government services or financial aid.

Mayor Jenny Durkan announced the decision to vacate all misdemeanor marijuana convictions in February, saying that it would be an important step to make the legal system "more just" and acknowledging "we as a society made a mistake."

"While we cannot reverse all the harm that was done, we must do our part to give Seattle residents—including immigrants and refugees—a clean slate," Durkan said in a statement, acknowledging that a conviction for immigrants could have led to a barrier to citizenship or deportation proceedings. 

Holmes stopped charging for marijuana possession when he took office in 2010. According to the city, this motion covers 542 people convicted for misdemeanor marijuana possession between 1997 and 2010. 

Vacating a conviction allows the defendant to withdraw a guilty plea for not guilty and then get the charge dismissed; after that, the conviction would no longer show up on background checks. Members of the public can check to see whether they have a misdemeanor pot conviction through the court's portal

Other crimes, like state or felony marijuana convictions, would remain since the city has no control over those. It's unclear how many of the 542 people who have misdemeanor convictions with the city also have other state or felony convictions that would still show up on background checks. 

“The city's motion is a small but meaningful step in reducing the harm the war on drugs has caused communities of color," Lorinda Youngscourt, director of the King County Department of Public Defense, said in a statement. 

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