Washington state Democrats have introduced a bill that would reduce penalties for drive-by-shootings as part of an effort to promote "racial equity in the criminal legal system."
The proposal, House Bill 1692, would remove drive-by shootings as a basis for elevating a first-degree murder charge to aggravated murder in the first degree, which carries a greater sentence of life in prison without parole. It was introduced by state Reps. Tarra Simmons (D) and David Hackney (D) on Dec. 23, pre-filed for the upcoming legislative session that will begin on Jan. 10, according to the Center Square.
House Bill 1692 would apply retroactively to anyone convicted of aggravated first degree murder where a drive-by shooting was the only aggravating factor in the charge. Such persons "must be returned to the sentencing court or the sentencing court’s successor for entry of a conviction of murder in the first degree and sentencing according to the sentencing guidelines in effect on the date of the offense.”
Additionally, the bill grants Washington state judges the discretion to discard the mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines for anyone who was convicted of aggravated murder for a drive-by shooting committed when they were under age 21. In such cases, the bill says judges may "take the particular circumstances surrounding the person's age and all other pertinent factors into consideration when determining an appropriate sentence."
In a statement to KTTH-AM, Simmons' office said first degree murder "is a heinous crime which already carries a long and serious sentence." But she added that, “it’s clear that [this aggravated classification] was targeted at gangs that were predominantly young and Black.” She went on to argue that the current law is an example of "systemic racism."
According to the Center Square, Washington state added drive-by shootings as an aggravating factor for first degree murder charges in 1995, amid a surge in gang-related crime. A 1997 annual report from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs catalogued gang-related homicides, showing just 3 cases in 1991, followed by 17 in 1992, 31 in 1993, 26 in 1994, and 13 in 1995.
Republicans lawmakers opposed to the bill charge that Democrats are pushing soft-on-crime policies as part of the "defund the police" movement at a time when violent crime is rising again in Washington.
“Violent crime is on the rise in our communities, in part, because law enforcement officers do not believe under new laws passed by the Legislature earlier this year that they have the authority to detain or pursue individuals, for whom they reasonably suspect have committed criminal acts,” Rep. Gina Mosbrucker (R), the ranking Republican on the state House Public Safety Committee, said in a press release.
She continued: "It was reported during the summer that at least nine drive-by shootings in the Yakima area this year have left a trail of injuries, deaths and traumatized neighborhoods. This horrific crime is happening more and more across our state, taking the lives of innocent victims, destroying their families, and leaving neighborhoods and communities in fear."
Rep. Jacquelin Maycumber (R), the House Republican floor leader and a former law enforcement officer, asserted House Bill 1692 is the latest in a series of Democrat-backed criminal justice reform bills that are soft on crime.
“The Defund the Police movement pushed by progressives in this state brought forth a package of law enforcement ‘reform’ bills during the 2021 legislative session that, in the end, have made families and communities less safe, law enforcement less effective, and criminals were emboldened,” she said in a press release.
Maycumber cited statistics showing a surge in violent crime in Washington, questioning why Democratic lawmakers are pushing to reduce sentences for violent criminals.
“Washington state is already seeing a surge in violent crime which is currently at a 25-year high, with murders at an all-time high in 2020, up 80 percent from five years ago,” she said. “Rape is up 40 percent from five years ago and aggravated assaults are up 50 percent from five years ago. In light of this, why are some elected officials so intent on making it easier to be a violent criminal and releasing murderers back onto our streets?
“House Bill 1692 is a tragedy in the making as our children and families will be less safe in their own homes and even their own beds. This bill will allow those who have committed murder when engaged in drive-by shootings to get out of jail sooner.”
The Center Square reported that murder and manslaughter rates both rose last year, citing a more recent WASPC report.
According to the WASPC, there were 302 murders in 2020 compared to 206 murders in 2019, an increase of 46.6%. Manslaughter rose 100%, with 34 cases in 2020 compared to 17 in 2019.