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Washington’s Criminalization of the Visibly Poor

Posted by Steve Karimi | May 27, 2015 | 0 Comments

Earlier this month, a study was released by the Seattle University School of Law that documents just how far the state of Washington has gone to criminalize homelessness. The study, entitled “Washington's War on the Visibly Poor: A Survey of Criminalizing Ordinances & Their Enforcement” analyzed laws in 72 Washington cities. The study claims that cities around Washington have enacted 288 ordinances that target the homeless since 2000, particularly in places with high income inequality. Specifically, these laws typically target activities that homeless people are forced to do- such as urinate publically, or sleeping in sidewalks.

Many of these anti-homeless laws designate civil infractions with financial penalties, rather than criminal ones that carry jail time. For example Centralia Washington's notorious city ordinance bans panhandling after dark, or at any time within 300 feet of the town's 23 busiest intersections, Interstate 5 ramps and state highways within city limits, on public transport, or within 15 feet of gas pumps, ATM, or people stepping out of their vehicle. The first offense is a class one civil infraction punishable by up to a $250 fine; the second is a misdemeanor punishable by up to $1,000 and or a 90-day jail sentence; the third is a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to $5,000 and or up to a year in jail- something a homeless person cannot afford to pay.

Aside from the obvious concerns of these ordinances, there are also deeper issues attached to them. For example, will firefighters or boy scouts not be allowed to ‘fundraise' in front of a grocery store where there happens to be an ATM? Further, civil infractions do not come with the key protections that criminal charges are supposed to come with (ie. Miranda rights). Moreover, failure to pay fines may sometimes lead to criminal charges. Lastly, the Seattle city ordinance in particular bans sitting on the sidewalk. How does that affect sit-ins or free speech activity, for example?

In Seattle, there are already neutral laws that should address many of the ‘public safety' fears that would apply to homeless and non-homeless alike.

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Seattle criminal defense lawyer Steve Karimi has been zealously defending people's rights for decades. As He represents people in any state criminal court in Washington facing a wide range of misdemeanor, juvenile, and felony criminal threat charges. When you understand the potential consequences of a being charged with a crime, you will understand how important it is to work with an experienced attorney who knows the local courts and inner workings of law enforcement. Contact a Seattle traffic violations defense attorney online or call 206-621-8777 to schedule a free initial consultation. 24-hour-a-day call service is available at 206-660-6200.

About the Author

Steve Karimi

Steve Karimi attended Pepperdine University School of Law. After graduation he worked as a prosecutor in Seattle where he gained valuable insight to the criminal justice system. Attorney Karimi uses his experiences as a prosecutor everyday only now he fights for the justice of those accused.


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If you were arrested or a loved one has been charged with a crime in Seattle or surrounding areas of Washington State, the Law Offices of Steve Karimi can help. Call 206-660-6200 24 hours a day for a free consultation.

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Named a "rising star" in criminal defense by Washington Law and Politics magazine, Mr. Karimi is a former prosecutor for King County who uses his insight into prosecution strategies to protect his clients' rights in criminal court.