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The Seattle City Council is discussing a proposal to permit a “poverty defense” that could effectively exonerate someone who steals if the “crime was committed to supply a basic need” like food or rent, according to KOMO.
If this passes, it would therefore be an “affirmative defense” if someone shoplifts food from a store so that his/her family could eat, or steals, say, a TV from Target and re-sells it in order to pay for rent. From the KOMO story:
“The defendant would just have to prove that the needs fit within the definition of immediate basic need,” Asha Venkataraman, a member of the council’s Central Staff, told the Public Safety Committee. [City Council member Lisa] Herbold said she wants a jury to hear a defendant’s reasoning and leave it up to jurors to decide if the crime was committed to supply a basic need. “It’s giving people an opportunity to tell their stories and giving judges and juries the opportunity to hear those stories and make a decision based on the values of our city,” Herbold told the committee.
The Seattle City Council has been discussing this idea since October and is expected to continue the conversation in January. There are about 100 different misdemeanors for which it could apply.
There are myriad issues here that would take a dissertation rather than a blog post to fully flesh out. But first, it should go without saying that mass incarceration has been a stain on America for decades. Furthermore, there have also been second and third derivatives from pandemic lockdowns that have exacerbated what was already a problematic wealth gap in our country.
I honestly don’t know what the right answer is, but in my opinion, an Andrew Yang-style Universal Basic Income would be a much better solution than announcing to the world that there are no consequences for crime. You can’t have a society where people can steal from shop owners and homeowners with impunity.