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‘Seattleites should feel safe’: City attorney plans to eliminate criminal case backlog by 2023

The Seattle City Attorney is announcing more plans in her effort to reduce the criminal case backlog she inherited when taking office.

SEATTLE — Seattle City Attorney Ann Davison says her office will eliminate the criminal case backlog, which was up to nearly 5,000 cases when she took office in January, before 2023 under a new plan.

Davison, who inherited the backlog after taking over the office from Pete Holmes, announced the new plan Tuesday, saying it has been informed by former U.S. Attorney Brian Moran.

“Today’s plan will eliminate the backlog by the end of the year. We will also improve the processes of the Criminal Division to prevent another miscarriage of justice like this backlog,” Davison said Tuesday in a statement.

Moran was called in by Davison in early January as she took office to specifically help ease the case backlog.

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The plan includes combining staff resources by assigning additional cases to assistant city prosecutors, filling more support staff vacancies and setting up a system of prioritizing backlog referrals.

“My number one priority is improving public safety. Seattleites should feel safe walking down the street or going to the park. My early actions to implement five-day filing and create a High-Utilizer Initiative to address frequent offenders were first steps to disrupt the culture of crime in Seattle,” Davison said.

Under the new plan cases involving crimes against persons, which include domestic violence, assault with sexual motivation and other assault and harassment crimes will be prioritized first, a release stated. The city attorney’s office will then prioritize crimes involving firearms and weapons, DUIs and those who meet the High Utilizer Initiative criteria or anyone with three or more current referrals in the backlog respectively.

“Simply filing every case would not resolve the backlog – the court system cannot handle an influx of cases of this magnitude all at once. Under our new process, and with the continued dedication of our Criminal Division staff, we will address the backlog by the end of the year,” said Criminal Chief Natalie Walton-Anderson in a statement.

Additionally, cases in the backlog that have gone beyond the statute of limitations are being declined. 

Davison, who said she has already filled nine vacant prosecutor positions since taking office, will also seek a supplemental budget request to fund additional staff until the backlog is eliminated.

Davison announced a number of previous initiatives to eliminate the criminal division’s case backlog including lowering the filing decision time for new cases to a maximum of five days. 

In March, the High Utilizer Initiative identified at least 118 individuals who were responsible for more than 2,400 cases over the last five years in the city. The program looked to enhance the outcomes for these individuals to get them out of the criminal justice system while also diminishing their impact on public safety.

According to the city attorney’s office, these efforts have reduced the criminal case backlog by 428 cases.

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