Seattle City Council Discussing ‘Poverty Defense’ for Stealing

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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.


Written by Ryan Glasspiegel

Ryan Glasspiegel grew up in Connecticut, graduated from University of Wisconsin-Madison, and lives in Chicago. Before OutKick, he wrote for Sports Illustrated and The Big Lead. He enjoys expensive bourbon and cheap beer.


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  1. Ryan, a universal basic income is socialism. I live in California and work in the construction industry. Do you know what the biggest issue is for my contractors? Lack of work force since the pandemic, due to the fact that unemployment benefits doubled. $900 a week, tax free, including free healthcare for that individual, his or her spouse, and all dependents living in their home. And even though they may be perfectly healthy, Covid allows them to take a pass on work.

    If you are able bodied, can pass a drug test, and are an unemployed server, retail employee, cook, busser, whatever, you can find gainful employment if you want it. The majority of jobs lost during this pandemic have been entry level positions. Folks eventually need to grow up and move to a better career anyway. This should help expedite that transition.

    I’m a high school graduate. I got where I am by working. I now make a comfortable 6 figure salary and support a family of five. The great thing about this country, is hard work will take you anywhere you want to go. A universal basic income will stagnate our nation and lead to its demise.

  2. Ryan, just wow. Samwebb28 was absolutely correct. If you want to exacerbate the problems we already have, just institute more socialism. We don’t have a “mass incarceration” problem, we have a crime problem. Which is a direct result of Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” efforts. Which was a redistribution of wealth, or in other terms, a disincentive to work.
    Can you imagine the chaos Seattle will devolve into if this measure passes? Why would anyone with any assests subject themselves to that type of lawlessness? Seattle would become one big “CHOP” or “CHAZ”. There is no redeeming value in this proposal.

  3. I have lived in the Seattle-area my whole life. The ineptitude of this city council, and to a lesser extent the mayor, is jaw dropping. Largely forgotten however are the city prosecutors, who flatly refuse to even prosecute many types of crime at all. Retail theft crimes really aren’t prosecuted in Seattle (maybe if you get to the level of a professional theft ring they might.) The average person going into a department store and stealing clothes — slap on the wrist at best assuming they are even caught. Stores don’t even call the police when this happens, it’s not a priority for the police and we have 30-year low levels in the police department, despite a 44% increase in population in the last 30 years.

    I worked in a retail store in a high-traffic area near downtown Seattle (well I would be working except it is closed along with numerous other industries in Washington state due to lockdowns by our Democrat governor.) We would have to rethink how our entire store is laid out and remove numerous product lines from the sales floor simply to keep thieves from legally stealing it should these laws be passed. Utterly ridiculous.

    To the city council and city prosecutors in Seattle, rioting is OK. Vandalism is OK. Theft is OK. Open drug-dealing in public is OK. They simply don’t care and seem to just pander to the whims of protestors and activists. The opinions of normal, common-sense individuals are not wanted and ignored here. So many buildings are still boarded up in downtown (partly due to the pandemic but also due to the threat of continued rioting and vandalism.) Over 140 businesses in downtown have already closed permanently since the pandemic began. They implemented a payroll tax (largely to tax Amazon) during the pandemic. Amazon simply took the jobs out of Seattle and moved them 10 minutes away to the neighboring city of Bellevue. Seattle is an unmitigated disaster area and continues to become more of an elitist city. Our minimum wage here will be $16.69 on January 1st. A #1 at McDonals is almost $11 here — you need a six-figure income to afford to live here comfortably.

  4. much better solution to what? You think UBI will cause a criminal to stop his/her activity? UBI already exists…it’s called welfare and Medicaid. How many criminals who rob and steal are on Welfare? Are they starving? Cracks me up when I see most panhandlers on the side of the road are over weight.

    The author and those on the left make the mistake of assuming all criminals are like them at heart and it’s all life circumstance that causes crime.

  5. I lived in the Bay Area for about 5 years, from 2004 to 2009, right as the tech boom was really starting to pay dividends for San Francisco proper (the beginning of the boom years for Silicon Valley happened well in advance of when I arrived there, but urban living was just starting to become fashionable). There were certainly portions of the city that were unsafe, but for the most part, the city was booming with small businesses and retailers moving in as fast as they could.

    Then, prop 47 passed. If you’re not familiar, this is the proposition that downgraded the punishment for various property crimes, including shoplifting. It’s utterly amazing what this has done to the city. Car break-ins are EVERYWHERE you look. EVERY retail store now has a security guard, front and center. I was in a Walgreens back in February, and they had probably 50% of their inventory locked up. INSTANT COFFEE required you to ask a cashier to unlock the shelf. Walking through various stores during that last visit felt like I was living in a dystopian movie.

    The ONLY way I get behind universal basic income is if you simultaneously get rid of the bureaucracy-infested poverty programs that already exist, and there is no, nor will there ever be, enough political will in this country to do it correctly.

  6. “But first, it should go without saying that mass incarceration has been a stain on America for decades.”

    Wow a lot to unpack in that sentence.

    Have you gone to law school? Did you study criminology in undergrad? Do you follow crime statistics on the FBI website? How can you say the US has a mass incarceration issue let alone state that its super obvious?

    Did a left wing sociology professor in Madison Wisconsin tell you that?

    The more stringent sentencing guidelines and laws resulted from studies conducted in the 1970s and 1980s that showed that a convicted criminal, on average, commits 24 more crimes than the one for which he has been arrested and convicted. These studies also showed that the vast majority of crime in cities was committed by a small number of these super-spreader crooks, nearly all of them already known to the police. Recognition of that fact was reflected in ‘three strikes’ laws and ‘broken windows’ policing which were largely responsible for the dramatic fall in serious and violent crime in the 1990’s-2005 period.

    Keep them off the street and the crime rate will drop significantly.

    That seemed to have worked – until now when a new generation of Americans think they know better and want to repeat the same mistakes of their parents and grandparents.

    However, where we’re going on the current road — with a major political party completely devoted to making criminals free again — isn’t great either.

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