Washington lawmaker, convicted felon proposes bill to let judges reduce sentences for violent offenders

Judges would have clemency powers to unilaterally reduce sentences for violent offenders years later, even if the facts of a case have not changed.

Ari Hoffman Seattle WA
A bill has been pre-filed for the upcoming session of the Washington State Legislature that would give judges clemency powers so they could unilaterally decide to reduce sentences for violent offenders years later, even if the facts of a case have not changed.

One of the sponsors of the legislation is Democratic Rep. Tarra Simmons, a former convict who has previously worked to restore voting rights to those convicted of felonies and to reduce penalties for drive-by shootings to promote "racial equity," even as the state has grappled with a spike in crime and record homicides.

Simmons is also the co-founder/director of the Civil Survival Project, which advocates for former convicts.

If enacted, the “Judicial Discretion Act” would allow judges to modify “...sentences in the interests of justice.”

Despite record crime and homicide numbers in Washington due in part to a “revolving door” justice system that releases prolific offenders, the bill states, “The legislature finds that long-term incarceration disproportionately impacts poor communities and communities of color. The legislature further finds that an expansive body of research demonstrates that lengthy sentences can increase, rather than reduce, recidivism.”

“The legislature further finds that the potential to reduce a sentence encourages incarcerated individuals to engage in good behavior and to take advantage of rehabilitative programming. The legislature further finds that because the cost of long-term incarceration is substantial and the state must use its resources responsibly, providing judges the opportunity to modify lengthy sentences in the interests of justice will result in significant cost savings to the state.”

“Therefore, the legislature intends to authorize sentencing courts to review lengthy sentences upon a showing that a person's original sentence no longer serves the interests of justice.”

According to the bill, a judge can modify a criminal’s “…original sentence if the court finds that the sentence no longer advances the interests of justice, provided that any new sentence imposed shall not be greater than the original sentence.”

Additionally, the court shall not permit any person to waive the right to petition for a reduced sentence.

The legislation claims that the “savings” of not incarcerating these individuals will fund “…the costs associated with petitions and proceedings.”

The only recourse that a victim or their family might have would be to “…present a statement personally or by representation at the hearing.”
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