Some 2019 magazine headlines like “Left-coast Lawlessness” and “Seattle Under Siege” might have been a bit overblown. According to the official records, crime rates decreased across the board last year.

Property crime rates, mostly theft, were at their lowest levels since the 1970s. Violent crime rates also dropped sharply. Seattle Police Department spokesperson Sergeant Sean Whitcomb said that social media was probably to blame. Additionally, many people wrongfully assume that homelessness and crime are connected, he added.

Lower reporting rates might have something to do with the decreases. Overall, emergency police calls were down 3 percent, although the city’s population grew substantially. Theft and other property crime reports were down even more (20 percent).

“Many people, including many jurors, think that if police arrested people, they must have done something wrong,” remarked Seattle criminal defense attorney Lennard A. Nahajski. “Debunking that myth is probably the most important part of a criminal defense attorney’s job.”

There is a difference between morally guilty and legally guilty, he explained. Moral guilt is irrelevant in criminal cases. Legal guilt is all that matters. “Guilty” or “not guilty” is not related to what the defendant did, but rather to what the state can prove he did.

This proof must be beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s the highest standard of evidence in American law. The Pattern Jury Instructions have a generic definition of reasonable doubt which is not very helpful. So, defense lawyers often press for an additional clause: “If, from such consideration, you have an abiding belief in the truth of the charge, you are satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Prosecutors present their side of the story first. Immediately after that, almost all jurors would immediately vote “guilty” without hesitating. Proof of an abiding character means that, even after jurors hear the other side of the story, they have the same firm belief in the defendant’s guilt.

All this assumes the stop and arrest were legal. If officers lacked reasonable suspicion for the stop or probable cause for the arrest, the case cannot move forward. DUI is a good example. It’s not illegal to weave in a single lane of traffic. So, such weaving cannot be reasonable suspicion. If the defendant passed the field sobriety tests, or the officer did not administer them for some reason, there may be no probable cause for the arrest.