Seattle judges may vacate 500 marijuana charges. Will those people find out? | KUOW News and Information

Seattle judges may vacate 500 marijuana charges. Will those people find out?

Jul 20, 2018

Do people getting their marijuana convictions vacated by the City of Seattle need to be notified? Are they entitled to legal counsel, and to reimbursement for the fines and fees they paid?

Those are some of the questions Seattle’s municipal court judges are wrestling with as they consider the city’s request to vacate more than 500 convictions for marijuana possession from 1996 to 2010. Those judges met Friday to consider the city attorney’s motion without issuing any decision.  

Kelly Harris, criminal division chief at the Seattle City Attorney's office, told the judges that the city is not obligated to notify the hundreds of people with convictions before moving forward. 

"When there is no negative consequence, when there’s no deprivation of a due process right, there’s no notice requirement," Harris said. "This is a benefit."

Judge Adam Eisenberg said the judges support the intent of the city's motion but need to proceed carefully with this "unprecedented" request. They have no case law to guide them, he said. 

Judge Faye Chess said they don’t want the effort to have unintended consequences.  “We want to provide justice too, and equality," she said. "And we don’t want to take an action that down the road we discover negatively impacts individuals."

Seattle officials said the motion is an attempt to undo harms inflicted by the country's war on drugs, now that marijuana is legal in Washington state. Harris said he wasn’t sure about the timeline for next steps in the process.