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Gossett: Amended pretrial diversion legislation better, but still edging toward “two-tier justice system”

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The Chair of the Metropolitan King County Council said while today’s amended legislation for use of pretrial alternatives removes the harshest parts of the proposal, he is still concerned about creating a two-tiered justice system.

“Judges will still have a valuable tool to use when suspects come before them,” said Larry Gossett, who voted against the ordinance. “But I’m still concerned the idea behind the original legislation defies the Council’s commitment to the principles of equity and social justice that are part of the King County Strategic Plan. A two-tier justice system that punishes defendants for being poor is a step back, not a step forward.”

The original legislation was set to establish interim eligibility conditions for pretrial defendants' participation in alternatives to adult secure detention. Defendants charged with a violent offense or sex offense and have one or more convictions of a violent offense or sex offense within the last 10 years would not have been eligible for pretrial alternatives such as electronic home monitoring, work release, and day reporting.

The amended legislation will restrict these defendants from the lowest level of pretrial diversion which includes daily phone calls and drug testing. The defendants will continue to be eligible for enhanced alternatives—electronic home monitoring, work release, and day reporting.

Councilmember Kathy Lambert joined Council Chair Gossett in voting against the legislation.

“We need to continue to protect our judges’ ability to use judicial discretion in these pretrial cases, where the needs of individual cases can be properly evaluated,” said Lambert, Vice Chair of the Council’s Law, Justice, Health and Human Services Committee. “Judges need these various tools to help people address their underlying problems in order to help break the cycle of crime. Our courts must always have a ‘face of justice,’ as Norm Maleng used to say, and we should not forget that people are innocent until proven guilty.”

Gossett said public safety is vital, but that research from Council staff shows that slightly more than 1 percent of the defendants charged in 2010 would have come under the legislation.

“Individuals who can benefit from the services available in our alternatives to incarceration programs while awaiting trial would have had to sit in jail at a cost to the taxpayer. Meanwhile, a much larger percentage of detainees, some with more serious charges, can continue to bail/bond out without therapeutic services or supervision,” said Gossett. “Even amended, this proposal was a simplistic solution for an issue our own research shows isn’t a problem.”



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