Seattle Municipal Court Marijuana Arrests to be Dismissed

The Seattle Times reported today that Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan plan to vacate and dismiss all misdemeanor marijuana-possession convictions prosecuted by the city before pot was legalized in Washington. A few things to keep in mind about this plan. First, this only affects cases filed in Seattle Municipal Court, because Pete Holmes’ office only prosecutes crimes in that court, not misdemeanor marijuana charges filed across the street in King County District Court or felony charges filed across the street in King County Superior Court. If a person was arrested for misdemeanor marijuana possession in Seattle by a Seattle Police officer, their charge would likely have been filed in Seattle Municipal Court and will now be dismissed. But if a person was arrested by another law enforcement agency, such as the King County Sheriff, Washington State Patrol, University of Washington Police Department, or Port of Seattle Police, their charge typically is sent to the King County Prosecuting Attorney, who files the charge in King County District Court. So if someone was arrested for possession of marijuana near the University of Washington by a Seattle police officer, their charge gets dismissed. But if a person was arrested for possession of marijuana near the University of Washington by a University of Washington police officer, their conviction would not be dismissed and remain. Maybe King County Prosecutor Dan Satterburg will follow Pete Holmes and Jenny Durkan’s lead, but for now, that disparity exists.

Anyone who is getting their conviction vacated and dismissed based on this announcement should also follow up with the Washington State Patrol and make sure that all records of the offense are deleted from the publicly available Washington State Patrol Identification and Criminal History Section’s database. This database is often used by background check companies, employers, and landlords, to check a person’s criminal history in Washington state. The Washington State Patrol is stingy about removing records from this database when a case is dismissed for any reason other than the person is actually innocent of the offense. For instance, if an offense is dismissed pursuant to a deferred sentence, the Washington State Patrol will still typically report that the person was arrested for the offense, and that the offense was dismissed pursuant to a deferred sentence (so the employer or landlord who uses this database is still aware of the offense and could use this information against the person). I would hope that Pete Holmes and Jenny Durkan insist that the cases they are dismissing are completely removed from this database.

And finally, even after the case is dismissed, the record of the conviction can still easily be found online, for free, at the Seattle Municipal Court’s online case information database. So even if the case is dismissed, and even if the case is removed from the Washington State Patrol’s database, an employer or landlord can search the court’s case information and find out that the person is a pot head.