Posts by Mitchell Jacobs

The Broken Justice System; How One Offense Can Prevent Rehabilitation

The Broken Justice System; How One Offense Can Prevent Rehabilitation

In an article by NPR, As Court Fees Rise, the Poor are Paying the Price, multiple accounts are given to illuminate the plight of former offenders in debt, many of which are homeless and former veterans. At the heart of the article are impoverished offenders whose offenses were nonviolent crimes, and yet the men and women interviewed are forced into an endless cycle of poverty for having to pay court fees and ever escalating court debt that accrues from not having the financial means to pay the fines in the first place. Unfortunately, the justice system seems to be broken. Instead of giving offenders the opportunity to get rehabilitated, the system reinforces poverty that causes recidivism.

Those Forced to “Pay or Stay”

The NPR article is the result of a yearlong investigation that measured data by reviewing one year of jail booking records, thousands of pages of court documents, and reviewing laws in each of the 50 states and the District of Colombia, in addition to interviewing over 150 lawyers, judges, defendants – in and out of jail, government officials, and other experts. The results of the investigation found that “the cost of the justice system in the United States is paid increasingly by the defendants themselves.” NPR correspondent Joseph Shapiro was one of the contributors to the investigation writing the series Guilty and Charged.

Shapiro studied one year of jail records in Benton County, Washington. 25% of people in the county jail are there not for their misdemeanor offense, but rather for their inability to pay court fees. Misdemeanor offenses heard in District Courts may range from driving with a suspended license to failing to put a child in a car seat, and misdemeanors heard in the Superior Court may include theft or drug possession.

Barry Smith is one particular offender who is homeless, receiving government assistance in the measly amount of $197.00 a month. On the day of his hearing, he was asked to explain to the judge why he neglected to pay his $1,300.00 court fees, including the $100.00 warrant for his arrest, for which, at the time of the hearing, he was spending time in the county jail. Smith tried to explain that he simply did not have the means to pay the fees, asking the judge, “What am I suppose to do? Pray to God that (the money) falls out of the sky and into my hands? Ma’am?”

While crime is never excusable, Smith’s theft misdemeanor is, perhaps, at least understandable, given his circumstances. What is not understandable and unreasonable is the unsympathetic judge’s decision to impose a sentence of 75 days in jail with a purge condition of $500.00, which is in is addition to the outstanding fee Smith already owes.

The Effects of Demanding Court Fees From the Poor

According to Washington State Judge Robert Ingvalson, there are two consequences for committing a crime: your time or your money. He claims that incarceration is used to enforce justice for those who cannot pay court fees. Vanessa Torres Hernandez, an attorney with the American Civil Liberty Union of Washington, claims that court fines and fees are like receiving a second sentencing for the poor who cannot afford to pay them.

The court fine and fee for a person convicted of a Felony in Washington is $2,500.00. Such fines and fees go against the principals of equality that the United States was founded upon, that the law should not differentiate between the classes – rich or poor, and yet by making offenders go to jail who cannot afford to pay their court fees, the court system is essentially giving wealthy offenders a get-out-of-jail-free card.

As a result, offenders with low-level, nonviolent crimes are being sentenced to prison, giving a jail sentence to someone who would otherwise not have one. The problem with charging offenders who cannot pay, other than the fact that it is pointless, since the poor and homeless offenders cannot pay the fees that they owe in the first place, is that once they attempt to rehabilitate, they will have difficulty doing so under the lofty weight of debt and holding a criminal record. There are, however, a few programs designed to aid offenders by giving them alternatives to paying the entire sum and serving a sentence.

Restorative Justice Programs and Payment Alternatives

Many states offer restorative justice programs in effort to give offenders who cannot afford to pay their court fees an alternative to payment and jail time. Some of the Restorative Justice programs in Washington include:

  • Work crew: a restorative justice program for low risk youths that offers physical labor performing community service activates such as picking up trash as an alternative to paying court fees or serving detention time. Work crew, however, charges $5.00 a day in order to participate.
  • Fugitive Safe Surrender: the program offers significant reductions for nonviolent offenders with sizable court fines and fees. Offenders wanted for misdemeanors and felonies also have the option to turn themselves in to their cases adjudicated in a safe and nonviolent environment.

The State adds 12% interest and more fees to the court fine and fees already owed. The only options available in most states, including Washington, is to serve a jail time as a substitute for paying court fines and fees. Some in Benton County have the option to go to jail for one month or two months to clear their bill.

Expunging Your Washington Criminal Record

Once court fines and fees have been paid, it may still be difficult to find employment for former offenders, since most employers run criminal background checks. Fortunately, expunging your criminal record will overturn your conviction to show no finding of guilt, which will help you to pass criminal background checks for employment, opening the door to better career opportunities and a stable income. Do not get stuck in a system of recidivism. Break the cycle by expunging your offense from your criminal record. If you can identify with the victims in this article, then money is not something that you can afford to throw away. You can find out if you are eligible to have your record expunged using the free eligibility test provided by

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Is Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana Safer than Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol?

The state of Washington recently legalized marijuana for recreational use. One of the main concerns of legalizing marijuana is that more people run the risk of driving under the influence of marijuana. The new law legalizing marijuana is careful to explain that driving under the influence of marijuana will be treated the same as driving under the influence of alcohol. In fact, a recent article in The Seattle Times claims that “stoned driving, (according to researchers), is simply less dangerous (than drunk driving).”

smoking and driving

Smoking and driving photo by xxxology

Recreational Marijuana and Driving

Since marijuana became legal in Washington State, distinctions between the results for field sobriety tests given to drunk drivers and high drivers have become paramount. A Washington State field sobriety test usually consist of checking horizontal gaze nystagmus – rapid involuntary movements of the eye / eye coordination – by seeing if the suspected drunk, or, in this case, high, driver can follow an object, like a pen, with their eyes and without moving their head. Other standard field sobriety tests (SFST) may include:

  • The Walk-and-Turn (WAT) test – where the individual is expected to walking in a straight-line heal-to-toe, turn back on one foot and do walk back.
  • The One-Leg Stand (OLS) test – where the individual must stand on one foot, keeping the other foot approximately 6 feet off the ground for 30 seconds.

Drunk or Stoned?

The article, “Who’s, more dangerous: drunken or stoned driver?” gathers supporting evidence from a 2012 study published in the journal Psychopharmacology that states, “only 30 percent of people under the influence of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, failed the field test. And its ability to identify a stoned driver seems to depend heavily on whether the driver is used to being stoned.”

The article is not making the case for so-called stoners, but rather is drawing a comparison between two recreational activates – smoking pot and drinking alcohol – one of which is a nationally accepted form of recreation and the other is still viewed by many as an illegal and dangerous activity. By drawing the comparison, the article is able to demonstrate the relative safety of driving under the influence of marijuana in comparison to driving under the influence of alcohol.

Another example that The Seattle Times article presents is that of “a 21-year-old driver on his first bender and (that of) a hardened alcoholic” stating that “both wobble on one foot” during a sobriety test, where as “the same is not necessarily true of a driver who just smoked his first joint and the stoner who is high five days a week.”

The Conflict Over THC Breathalyzer Tests

So, a person driving under the influence of marijuana may be able to pass standardized field sobriety test, but can they pass a Breathalyzer? The real concern in distributing a Breathalyzer to a person suspected of driving high is how to measure the toxicity level of marijuana. How much is too much? The current limit for a person driving under the influence of marijuana is 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood, which is 5 parts per billion.

A European study suggest that a limit of 5 nanograms is far too high claiming that “if you smoke often enough, your blood-THC content might still be 5 nanograms per milliliter a day after you last lit up.” An individual may have 5 nanograms of THC in their system from frequently smoking marijuana, but that does not necessarily indicate that the individual is high – which, in theory, is the contributing factor to reckless driving. The study suggests that the limit be changed to 1 nanogram per milliliter “because the THC builds up in fatty tissue and is release slowly, (and) such a limit may ensure frequent users who may not be high.”

Expunging Your Marijuana DUI

While the terms of how to measure driving under the influence of marijuana are still being debated, one thing is certain – a DUI, whether for driving under the influence of alcohol or for driving under the influence of marijuana, will permanently remain on your criminal record until you have the DUI expunged, which, in Washington, is referred to as vacating. To see if your Washington DUI is eligible for expungement, take this free online eligibility test.

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What Would You Do; Seattle Crime Edition

What Would You Do? With John Quinones is a popular show on ABC that challenges the public by putting them on camera while staging outlandish, awkward, touching, or, at times, terrifying situations, to see how the general public would react in realty, rather than just in theory, albeit a staged reality. The show poses the question, what would you do if put into one of these situations? Would your reaction be charitable, kind, or brave? Would you do the right thing, or would you fail to rise to the occasion? Or, even worse, would you aid the efforts of the so-called wrong side or bad guy?

Surveillance Footage Captures Daring Crime

In Seattle, Washington, commuters where challenged to a real-life version of What Would You Do? According to Live Leak, local Seattle commuters placed an armed criminal

Surveillance camera capturing footage

Crime Surveillance photo by Frederic Bisson

identified as 19 year-old Trevonnte Brown under citizen’s arrest when he pulled a gun on one of the passengers on the 25th of November. The bus’ surveillance footage shows the passenger who was attacked quickly responding to having a lethal weapon pointed at his face by pushing the armed suspect away before punching Brown in the face and tackling him to the floor. Fellow commuters joined this man’s brave act by assisting in removing the weapon, detaining the suspect, and calling the police, while others simply ran.

In this case, the man who had the most to lose – his life- was instantly willing to defend himself. In this situation, it does not seem that the man had time to think, but instead responded out of a fight-or-flight instinct. The other passengers, on the other hand, clearly had time to react and choose whether or not they would be heroic or fail to rise to the occasion. While at least three other people joined in by assisting the man in his battle to defend himself, most of the passengers ran in the opposite direction, including what seemed to be the biggest man on the bus. According to Live Leak, Brown was arrested shortly after being tackled on the bus.

Surveillance and Crime

If you were put in this situation, would you fight or would you run? Or, would you be the armed suspect? With advancements in technology, camera phones, surveillance cameras, and the internet, chances are that someone is watching, whether you are on a show, surveillance, or someone’s smartphone. If you have already committed a crime, the general public may be able to easily access evidence of that crime.

Just by entering your name into a search engine, people may be able to find evidence of your criminal past from mugshots to court records, which are public records. If you are not proactive about vacating your record and making sure that the vacated record of your offense does not show up on background checks, then the evidence of your offense will stay in public view. To see if you are eligible to vacate your record, take this free online test,

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Vacating Your Adult Criminal Record in Seattle

seattle skyline

Seattle skyline photo by Roger Ward

Seattle is the most populated city in the state of Washington and serves as the headquarters to several Fortune 500 companies such as Nordstrom, Costco,, Starbucks, Microsoft, and more, providing ample employment opportunities. Unfortunately, if you have an adult criminal record, it may be very difficult to obtain employment with any of these corporate companies. Fortunately, you may be able to vacate (expunge) your adult criminal record in Seattle, legally permitting you to deny the occurrence of the vacated arrest or conviction.

When you vacate a misdemeanor or felony from your criminal record, the guilty judgment is withdrawn and the charges against you are dismissed, allowing you to legally say that you were not convicted of a crime. You can submit applications for employment and housing with confidence knowing that your vacated offense will not show up on the criminal background check and that you can honestly say that you were never convicted of a crime.

How Does Vacating Your Adult Criminal Record Affect Your Rights?

When your Seattle criminal record is vacated you may be able to restore civil rights that were taken away from you as a result of your conviction such as your civil rights and your rights to own firearms. For instance, if you have been convicted of a felony, you cannot serve on a jury until you have your civil rights restored to you. While vacating your offense does not automatically restore your civil rights to you, clearing the arrest and/or conviction vacated and removed from your criminal record will make you eligible to have your civil rights restored to you.

Similarly, if your conviction caused you to lose your right to own a firearm, vacating your offense may make you eligible to have your firearm rights restored to you. Those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence as defined by the federal law have a lifetime prohibition to own firearms from the United States government (Lautenberg Amendment to the Violence Against Women Act). Otherwise, Washington law does not care how many felony convictions you have on your criminal record or where you received your conviction, but instead focuses on the nature of your conviction and when your conviction occurred. Make sure that you are eligible to restore you firearm rights before submitting the petition for restoration.

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How to Vacate a Misdemeanor in Washington

washington vacate convictionIf you have a non-violent misdemeanor conviction in Washington, you may be allowed to vacate the misdemeanor. Vacating is the term used in Washington to for an expungement, or record clearing. Once your misdemeanor is vacated, the case is no longer deemed a conviction. As per the Annotated Revised Code of Washington Section Code 9.96.060[1], once your misdemeanor has been vacated, you can legally say that you were not convicted of the offense. Here is what you need to know about how to vacate your Washington misdemeanor.

The most important step in vacating your Washington misdemeanor is making sure that you are eligible. Not all offenses are eligible, such as violent crimes, and you must also pay all fines and restitution owed to the court. To be eligible you must also satiate the mandatory waiting period that starts from the time you complete your probation. The waiting periods are:

  • Class B Felony: 10 Years (Felonies before 7/1/1984 are not eligible)
  • Class C Felony: 5 Years (Felonies before 7/1/1984 are not eligible)
  • Domestic Violence: 5 Years (Must be the only conviction involving Domestic Violence)
  • Misdemeanor: 3 Years
  • Gross Misdemeanor: 3 Years
  • Diversion/Deferred Judgment: 2 Years
  • Sex offenses and DUI offenses: are not eligible

Take the Necessary Steps to Vacate your Midemeanor

You will file the petition to vacate your Washington misdemeanor with the same courthouse that oversaw your original misdemeanor hearing. While you always have the option to file the petition and proceed with the vacating process on your own, it is highly advisable that you seek the representation of an experienced record clearing attorney. An attorney who is licensed by the Washington Bar Association and who is specialized in vacating convictions will be able to confidently navigate you through this complex and time sensitive process. You will need to file court documents accurately and on time, for a failure to do so could result in a delayed or a failed petition. The right vacating attorney will be able to make sure that you file everything properly and promptly, will be able to conduct research for your case, and will represent you in court. If you cannot afford to hire a private attorney, you should seek the representation of your local public defender who can represent you for a low cost, if not for free.

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