When The Criminal Justice System is Unhelpful

There are two bills in Olympia that recognize that it’s not always in the state’s interest to keep felonies on people’s criminal records. First one that would let members of tribes with fishing rights vacate convictions for fishing off reservation before 1975 (Yakima Herald link). Since they have had their rights recognized for decades now, it makes sense to vacate the convictions of the people who made that possible. Also they had the right to fish there, even if the state didn’t always recognize it. Fortunately, that’s another lopsided vote.

House Bill 2080, which passed by a vote of 92-6, would allow those tribal members to apply to the sentencing court to expunge their misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor or felony convictions. Family members and tribal officials could also seek a vacated criminal record on behalf of a deceased person. The court would have the discretion to vacate the conviction, unless certain conditions apply, such as if the person was convicted for a violent crime or crime against a person.

“We have a responsibility to try and make things right,” said the bill’s prime sponsor Rep. David Sawyer, D-Tacoma. “It simply allows tribal members to apply to have those convictions vacated so they can live their lives in dignity. It’s essentially an apology as well.”

Tribal members and others were roughed up, harassed and arrested in the 1960s and 1970s while asserting their right to fish for salmon off-reservation under treaties signed with the federal government more than 100 years before. At the time, however, those acts violated Washington state regulations, and there were raids by game wardens and other clashes with police. The Northwest fish-ins known as the “Fish Wars” were modeled after civil rights movement sit-ins and were part of larger demonstrations to assert American Indian rights nationwide.

The other thing is a bill to allow prostitutes to clear their convictions stemming from prostitution if they were a result of. This story is a bit sensationalist, and probably makes some generalizations about why people become prostitutes that aren’t great. Not every prostitute is a victim or trying to leave, but this bill is still a good thing.

This session, Washington lawmakers hope to support victims by expanding a law to allow survivors of sex trafficking to clear their records of multiple prostitution convictions. A current law, passed two years ago, only allows for removing one conviction.

The new bill continues the state’s role as a leader in legislation to combat trafficking. So far, only about a dozen states have similar laws on the books. The latest legislative effort also continues a national trend toward taking a “victim-centered” approach to prostitution.


“The reality is that individuals engaged in prostitution are often caught and arrested and prosecuted multiple times over their time in ‘the life,'” said King County’s Senior Deputy Prosecutor Val Richey, who works exclusively on human trafficking cases. “Allowing them to remove those convictions because they were obtained as result of engaging in prostitution through force or coercion makes a lot of sense, whether it’s one conviction or two or three.”

Richey said he hopes the bill expansion passes through the state Senate. An identical expansion to the bill passed the House last year but got stalled in the mostly Republican-controlled Senate. This year the bill’s sponsor said it has a better chance because a compromise is being sorted out.

In both cases it shows the legislature, or at least some members, see the limits of the criminal justice system. That in those instances, people having a criminal record is worse than the thing that we’re trying to prevent by convicting people and giving them those records in the first place.


  1. 1

    Pete spews:

    Also, today the House unanimously passed HB 1651, which would seal juvenile arrest records when the child turns 18 (except for violent offenses and a couple of other exceptions). WA is currently one of only eight states that does not do this – meaning info on that shoplifting bust that happened when you were 15 is available to anyone who wants to pay for it. The loophole is being used by a lot of prospective landlords, employers, and even schools to screen prospective tenants/workers/students – at least, those from WA, since if you grew up out of state the same offense likely doesn’t come up.

    Last year the same bill also passed the House unanimously…and died in the Senate. We’ll see what happens with all of these bills this year.

  2. 2

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    The limits of the criminal justice system are apparent when you look at how many bankers have gone to jail for crimes like rigging the LIBOR rate. Or when a kid suffering from “affluenza” gets probation for killing 4 people in a drunk-driving crash. In other words, “criminal justice” is a concept applied only to the non-rich and non-powerful.

  3. 3

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    Swallow These Rx’s At Your Own Risk

    The gullible public swallows many myths about the pharmaceutical industry. For example, many people believe patent drugs are expensive because the industry spends enormous sums on R&D. Wrong; the industry spends billions on marketing and next to nothing on research. Another popular belief is they have high quality control costs because they make a product we put in our bodies.

    What quality control?

    Bet you didn’t know that 40% of the generic prescription drugs and OTC drugs sold in the U.S. come from India.

    Or that 20% of the drugs made in India are outright fakes, blamed for (among other things) killing hundreds of babies, and many of the rest are made in fly-infested sweatshops.

    The quality problems with India-made drugs imported into the U.S. have gotten so bad the FDA commissioner made a personal trip to India in an effort to straighten out the mess.

    The drugs India ships to the U.S. are so bad the New York Times ran its expose as their page 1 lede today in its Seattle-area print edition.


    Roger Rabbit Commentary: Can you believe there’s actually a political party in the United States that believes government shouldn’t regulate business, and consumers should just trust businesses to do the right thing? Holy shit.

  4. 4

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    There’s more to offshoring than the lower cost of foreign labor. Another reason greedy businessmen like to make stuff overseas is there’s no regulation in those places.

  5. 5

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    Michael Dunn, who fired shots into a car with four teenagers, killing one, after a verbal altercation over the youths’ loud music, has been convicted on three counts of attempted murder but the jury was unable to reach a verdict and the judge declared a mistrial on the murder count.

  6. 6

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    More evidence of lawless behavior by the U.S. government surfaced today when the New York Times revealed Australia, at behest of the NSA, spied on a U.S. law firm advising the Indonesian government on trade issues, including communications covered by attorney-client privilege.

  7. 7

    Puddybud spews:

    Additional news skipped by Da Perfessa… And it was by Jon Stewart… HA DUMMOCRETIN libtard icon… except when Jon is taking DUMMOCRETINS to task for their continual stupidity! Obummer in 2009 farted…

    “My expectation is that high quality civil servants are going to be rewarded.”

    Obummer’s actions in 2014 say…

    37 percent of Obama’s appointments have been political, compared to 30 percent under George W. Bush and 28 percent under Bill Clinton.

    And from the NY Slimes… Puddy wonders why the link hasn’t been updated since 2012. Maybe Obummer got to the editorial board?