Criminal law

Bowser proposes changes to D.C. criminal code bill as congressional action approaches


Mayor Muriel E. Bowser on Monday announced a bill to amend several aspects of the Criminal law review It was approved by the D.C. Council in November — changes it says will address concerns about sweeping reform as lawmakers in Congress threaten to repeal the revised law altogether.

While Bowser (D) said she approves of “95 percent” of the overhaul The city’s century-old criminal code has repeatedly raised concerns about aspects of revisions that would allow jury trials in nearly all misdemeanor cases and reduce maximum penalties for some crimes. While supporters say the new penalties better align with the sentences judges issue for those crimes, Bowser and some judicial and local law enforcement officials said the changes send the wrong message about public safety and could put a heavy burden on the courts in 2025, when expanded prosecution will begin. Before the jury.

Bowser said on Monday that she Proposed modifications It would repeal the expansion of jury trials as well as a provision expanding the scope of jury trials The law of second sight A law that allows people convicted of crimes when they were young to petition the court for re-sentencing after 15 years — for people of all ages, so these changes can get “independent hearings.” Bowser also said her amendments would delay implementation of the new law until 2027, instead of 2025, and restore reduced maximum penalties for offenses such as burglary, auto theft and robbery.

“While no one believes sanctions alone will solve crime and violence right now, we have to be very intentional about the messages we send to our community, including prosecutors and judges,” Bowser said. “We know people are tired of violence, and our focus must now be on the victims and preventing more people from becoming victims.”

The D.C. Council overrides the mayor’s veto of a controversial new criminal law

Bowser last month vetoed the criminal law reform after it was approved unanimously in the House, though the legislature later voted 12-1 to override it. Some of the former board members He expressed his concerns Because of the mayor’s criticisms, which they said could be used as ammunition for Republican congressmen seeking to block this D.C. bill and another unrelated bill from becoming law with two vetoes.

On Monday, the Democratic whip urged House Democrats to vote against the resolutions, and on Sunday, all 13 members of the D.C. Council sent a letter to the House leadership in Congress urging them to reject the resolutions. Republicans in Congress who have spoken out against the revision generally say it will encourage criminals and exacerbate crime in the city, and they rarely go into detail. Because of a provision in the Constitution, Congress has the final say on D.C. legislation, although the veto has been unsuccessful for nearly three decades.

“Nearly all House Democrats have voted in the past in support of D.C.’s right to self-government, and these bills undermine the district’s autonomy and ability to legislate on behalf of the constituents who elected them,” the letter said.

Monday afternoon, the Biden administration said in a statement that it opposes both decisions.

The statement said the two resolutions “represent clear examples of how the region continues to be denied true autonomy and why it deserves statehood.” “As we work to make Washington, D.C., the 51st state in our union, Congress must respect the independence of the District of Columbia to govern its local affairs.”

In their letter to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), the D.C. Council said that “any changes or amendments to the district’s local laws must be made by the elected representatives of the state of California.” District of Columbia.”

And the lawmakers continued: “We ask that you stand against any attempts to undermine the autonomy granted by Congress to the region and instead defend the democratic rights of the residents of the region.”

Bowser, who has faced repeated questions about her position on criminal law non-consent decisions because of her stated problems with the procedure, Friday said that Hill legislators should stay out of city affairs and that any changes should be made through the city’s own legislative process—though she acknowledged there were members of Congress who “voiced similar concerns” about the overhaul.

Bowser says Congress shouldn’t get involved because it’s considering repealing both DC bills

other capital Lawmakers have spoken out more forcefully against congressional opposition to the law the changes.

D.C. Council Speaker Phil Mendelsohn (D) said he sent a separate letter to Jefferies to clarify possible misunderstandings about the code, writing that there was “no evidence” to support the claim that the bill would make the city “more dangerous” — echoing a view argued by Bowser. Previously – emphasizing that the bill brings criminal penalties more in line with sentencing ranges “which judges have already imposed over the past decade”, rather than simply reducing penalties for violent crimes.

Mendelsohn, who said Monday he was confident no House lawmaker would actually read the revised law, told reporters he had spoken to Bowser about signing his letter to Jefferies but that she “wanted to send her own.” He added that the mayor “has been very clear that she does not support the House’s efforts.”

He did not comment on whether he agreed with Bowser’s proposed changes, adding that they were “irrelevant to what the Republicans will do this week.” If the resolutions succeed and the law’s review is ultimately rejected in Congress, he said, “we’ll start over.”

Patrice Sulton, founder and CEO of the DC Justice Lab and former Senior Counsel at DC Justice Lab Criminal Law Reform CommissionOn Monday, he expressed pessimism about the law’s chances of reviewing the law with Congress, but also said the D.C. Council should not make changes based on how critics describe the law.

“Surrendering to fear-mongering is not a step we should take,” she added.

Council members Brock Pinto (D-Wing 2), Charles Allen (D-Wing 6), and Kenyans R. McDuffie (ME) issued statements Monday denouncing potential Republican interference while noting that revisions are necessary to modernize and deliver justice to the city’s criminal justice system.

“My immediate concern is to prevent Congress from reversing duly enacted legislation in the District of Columbia in an unfair and undemocratic manner,” Pinto, who chairs the House’s Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, said in a statement. “As I have said from the outset, I will continue to work with the Mayor to advance legislation and give a full hearing to any proposed criminal law legislation brought to the Commission.”

Civil rights and criminal justice reform organizations issued a joint statement Monday opposing efforts to block the law’s review.

“Opponents of (the criminal law review) are spreading misinformation and obstructing Washingtonians’ right to govern themselves – all to score political points at the expense of smart politics,” said Liz Kumar, a sentencing reform advisor with the Sentencing Project.

Kevin Ring, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, said D.C. residents and elected officials should decide on their own laws.

“The federal government should not interfere with the District of Columbia’s long overdue progress,” Ring said.

Karina Elwood contributed to this report.


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