Following an announcement by Mayor Jenny Durkan in February, today the Seattle City Attorney filed a motion with the Seattle Municipal Court to vacate roughly 500 misdemeanor marijuana possession convictions between 1996 and 2010.
The motion from City Attorney Pete Holmes explicitly acknowledges the racial disproportionality of these convictions, citing an ACLU report showing that African Americans are more than three times more likely to be arrested for pot possession than whites, despite equivalent rates of use.
“As we see marijuana sold in retail storefronts today, people who simply had a joint in their pocket a decade ago still have a red mark on their records,” Holmes said in a statement. “It’s long past time we remedy the drug policies of yesteryear, and this is one small step to right the injustices of a drug war that has primarily targeted people of color. I’m hopeful the court will choose to clear these charges.”
Misdemeanor pot convictions have not only affected people's ability to find work or homes, but have also affected undocumented people who face the threat of deportation for a criminal mark on their records. For that reason, the city's motion also argues that the vacated convictions be recognized by federal immigration authorities.
In order to try to undo some of these consequences for undocumented residents, the city is arguing that non-citizens accused of misdemeanor pot possession weren't advised of the consequences of taking a guilty plea. A 2010 Supreme Court ruling established that undocumented defendants have a constitutional right to advice from their defense attorneys on the immigration consequences of their criminal cases. Because non-citizens accused of possession before 2010 didn't have the Supreme Court ruling on their side, the city is arguing that their convictions should be discounted.
"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," Mayor Durkan said in a statement. "Noncitizens have also been unduly burdened by these convictions, which can provide a roadblock to gaining citizenship, or in the worst case, can initiate deportation proceedings."
If you want to check whether you have a misdemeanor conviction on your record, head to the Seattle Municipal Court portal and click on "defendant search."