Archive for Criminal Justice

New deadline for mental-health evaluations

By | March 12, 2015 | 0 Comments


Washington jails and hospitals now will have a deadline of two weeks to complete mental health evaluations under a bill Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law Thursday.

“Defendants do have the right to understand the proceedings against them and to participate in their own defense,” he said. “We all know we now need to turn to the important task of making sure this bill and these provisions are funded adequately.”

In a class-action lawsuit filed against the state, people charged with crimes say they were forced to wait an unconstitutional amount of time before receiving mental health evaluations for competency to stand trial, sometimes weeks or months.

Hospitals, under Senate Bill 5889, will have 14 days to offer admission to a defendant for inpatient competency evaluations. Jails must also complete evaluations within that time frame, with an option to extend another seven days for clinical reasons.

The new time limit will be phased in throughout a period of one year beginning July 1. If a jail or hospital exceeds a time limit, it will have to submit a report to the Legislature and governor’s office, and the defendant could use the missed deadline as a defense in court.

A shortage of psychiatric beds and staff contributed to the long wait times, mental health officials say. Lawmakers last month passed a supplemental budget with more than $20 million toward the state’s mental health system, including adding 45 beds to the Western State Hospital mental health wards.

Categories: Criminal Justice

‘Alicia’s Law’ bills pass out of state House, Senate

By | March 12, 2015 | 0 Comments

Investigators who fight child pornography in Washington say they are overwhelmed and underfunded. So the state is going after a new source of funding: The sex offenders themselves.

aliciaHouse Bill 1281 creates an account to fund the state’s Internet Crimes Against Child Task Force, which has six full-time employees who search online materials trying to identify victims and help prosecute the people who exploit them. The bill also imposes a $1,000 fine per image or video containing child pornography.

“We are asking the people who victimize children to pay first into a fund that helps rescue more children,” Rep. David Sawyer, prime sponsor of the House bill, told a Senate committee Thursday.

Sen. Pam Roach is sponsoring a similar bill in the other chamber, Senate Bill 5215, which solely creates an account to fund the task force.

Original versions of the bills allocated up to $2 million in unclaimed lottery prize money to the account every two years, but the provision was removed in committees. Now, the state would decide how much money is allocated to the account, similar to others.

Sawyer said if lawmakers have to revisit the account during each budget discussion, it’s more likely to get the funding he says it deserves. “We don’t want people to stop talking and thinking about what’s happening,” Sawyer told TVW.

Most of the civil fines collected under the House bill would go toward funding the state’s task force, but 25 percent would be reserved for advocacy organizations that provide mental health services for victims. “It’s not just after stopping the sex offenders, we need to make sure we’re taking care of victims too,” Sawyer said.

Both measures are named for Alicia Kozakiewicz, a woman who was lured from her home at 13 by a man she met online. A FBI internet crimes task force rescued the young girl four days later, after she was chained in basement, raped, beaten and tortured.

The 26-year-old now advocates around the country for state-level task forces, which she says have limited resources. “They have to look into these children’s eyes and say ‘I don’t have the ability to come get you’,” Kozakiewicz told TVW last month. “I know who you are, I know where you are and I know what’s happening to you, but I can’t come save you because I don’t have the manpower.”

Seattle Police Captain Mike Edwards, who commands Washington’s tax force, says the team needs more funding to secure more full-time help. They received more than 16,000 leads last year. “We’re getting crushed by the number of reports,” he said.

Sawyer’s bill received a hearing in the Senate Law and Justice committee on Thursday. The Senate version is scheduled for a hearing Monday in House Appropriations.

Categories: Criminal Justice

Wednesday recap on ‘Legislative Review’

By | February 26, 2015 | 0 Comments

Here’s our 15-minute recap of Wednesday’s legislative activities on “Legislative Review.” We cover a pair of bills that aims to reduce the child pornography trade in Washington by using unclaimed lotto money to fund a task force. Plus, we have details about several bills considered in fiscal committees and other measures passed off the Senate floor.

“Legislative Review” airs nightly at 6:30 and 11 p.m.

Categories: Criminal Justice

Washington would abolish death penalty if bill passes

By | February 18, 2015 | 0 Comments

For the more than 30 years since Washington’s death penalty was reinstated, state lawmakers have debated whether to abolish it.

That didn’t change this year when Rep. Reuven Carlyle introduced his seventh bill to keep criminals in prison for life and off death row. But this year’s push, amidst a death penalty moratorium, has more bipartisan support.

House Bill 1739 has 17 sponsors, including two Republicans. Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, has long supported eliminating the death penalty, but this year’s bill also has support from Rep. Chad Magendanz, R-Issaquah. Republican Sen. Mark Miloscia is sponsoring the Senate version.

Families of murder victims, law enforcement, bill sponsors and a former death row inmate were among those who testified Wednesday before a House committee on the bill.

The death penalty, Carlyle said, fails to deter homicide and is much more costly than life in prison.  “There are incredible implications, not just for our state and for our society, but for the choices we are making for the justice system, public safety and how we choose to spend the public’s hard-earned tax dollars,” the Seattle Democrat said. “Regardless of your view, the death penalty struggles to justify itself finally.”

Rep. Jay Rodne, Snoqualmie Republican and House Judiciary’s ranking GOP member, told sponsors he doesn’t think cost is enough to justify abolishing a punishment that he says gives justice to families. “The cost argument is a red herring, it’s disingenuous,” he said.

Gov. Jay Inslee issued a moratorium on the death penalty last February. He did not vacate sentences of the nine men currently on death row in Washington, but announced none would be executed while he’s in office.

The state sentenced Washington’s most recent death row inmate after Inslee took office. Byron Scherf, an inmate who killed corrections officer Jayme Biendl while she was on duty at a Monroe prison in 2011, was sent to death row in May 2013.

Inslee issued a statement in support of the measure following Wednesday’s hearing. “Capital punishment is a complex and emotional issue with very strong feelings on both sides and it’s important to have civil discussions like we saw today,” he said.

The niece of Delbert Belton, the 88-year-old World War II veteran who was killed by two Spokane teenagers in 2013, testified in support of the bill. One of the boys was sentenced last month to 20 years in prison.

She told lawmakers she’s thankful her family did not have to go through the process of seeking the death penalty. ”It would reopen this wound again and again,” she said. “It may be the only way I end up remembering my uncle. Instead I end up remembering my found childhood memories of him.”

Only one person testified in opposition to the bill. Mitch Barker, executive director for the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, said the death penalty is important leverage for law enforcement.: “Had the death penalty not been available to prosecutors, Gary Ridgway would never had admitted what he’d done,” he said.

If the bill passes, Washington would follow 18 states in abolishing the death penalty. Washington has a long legacy of banning and re-imposing a death penalty. The state reinstated the death penalty most recently in 1981. Since then, 33 people have been sentenced to death, but only five have been executed. Altogether, the state has executed 78 people since 1904.

Categories: Criminal Justice

‘Revenge porn’ bills get hearings

By | February 11, 2015 | 0 Comments

When computer technician Jeremy Scott Walters took a customer’s nude photos from her computer and threatened to post them online unless she “played along,” the woman said police did not take her seriously at first.

The woman told a House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday at a hearing on HB 1624 that Walters posted her intimate photos on a website where people post nude images of women with the intent of humiliating them, and links were sent to her family and friends.

The practice commonly is called “revenge porn,” though in this case, the only contact that the woman had with Walters was when she hired him to transfer her files from one computer to another.

After months of investigation, King County prosecutors charged Walters with computer trespass of four women whose nude or topless photos were posted online, and he was sentenced in December to a year in prison, according to news reports at the time.

“The process was long and arduous and painful,” the victim told the House Judiciary Committee. The woman spoke to the committee without identifying herself by her full name.

The woman testified on a bill that would set a civil penalty of at least $10,000 in restitution to the victims. The House will hear two other bills on Friday that would criminalize distributing intimate images of a person without that person’s consent.

Gary Ernsdorff of the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s office said the bills would help stop cyberstalking, which is a complicated crime to prove.

“It took us about five months and about a dozen search warrants before we had a complete picture of what revenge porn was and how it affected victims in an extreme fashion,” he said.

While some cases may be of an angry person getting back at a former girlfriend, that was not the case for Walters, Ernsdorff said.

“This was a person who was doing it, frankly, just to be cruel,” he said.

Ernsdorff said when victims contact the website, they are told they must pay $500, deposited into a foreign account, to have the images removed from the site.

“They are completely law-enforcement unfriendly by design,” he said. “Their business model is extortion.”

The violation still affects her life, the woman told lawmakers, forcing her to put her name and face out in the public in her efforts to stop the activity.

“Requiring me to be courageous and brave and having this be more upfront than I wanted this to be in the first place,” she said.

Categories: Criminal Justice

Bill would strengthen laws against animal cruelty

By | February 3, 2015 | 0 Comments

A new effort in the state Senate would strengthen charges for people who abuse animals and make it easier for law enforcement to intervene in cases of cruelty.

A state Senate bill would strengthen animal cruelty laws.

Senate Bill 5501 expands felony charges for animal cruelty, outlaws forcing all animals to fight and increases the legal value of pets. It also makes it easier for animal control officers to retrieve animals from cars without liability.

Right now, animal cruelty in the first degree includes intentionally inflicting substantial pain, causing physical injury or killing an animal. The bill would expand the charge to include anyone who causes an animal undue suffering with malice or extreme indifference to life. It’s a class C felony, with a maximum penalty of five years or a $10,000 fine.

The bill would give animal control officers more power to save animals and prosecute offenders, Thurston County Animal Control officer Erica Johnson told a Senate committee Tuesday.

“Adding malice and extreme indifference to life would allow me to request charge for people who just don’t care,” she said. Anyone charged with first degree animal cruelty is barred from owning animals or living anywhere where animals are present.

Forcing some animals to fight is illegal in Washington state, but the definition is limited to dogs and male chickens. The bill expands the state’s definition to include all animals.

It would also increase the value limit of a pet animal to $750, the monetary threshold for theft in the third degree. That’s three times the current value limit.

If an animal is left in a vehicle in excessive heat or cold, the bill would allow an animal control officer to remove the animal without liability. The owner could, if the bill passes, face a $125 fine.

Animal control officers often wait for law enforcement to arrive because liability has been a grey area, Johnson told committee members. “We’ve been told to wait outside,” she said.

No one testified in opposition to the bill at its first hearing Tuesday, but Sen. Pam Roach raised concerns. “This bill is extremely broad and I think we need to understand how subjective it really is,” the Auburn Republican told fellow committee members.

Categories: Criminal Justice

‘Alicia’s Law’ would fund child exploitation task force in Washington state

By | January 30, 2015 | 0 Comments

Alicia Kozakiewicz was 13 when she was lured from her Pittsburgh home by a man she met online.

Alicia Kozakiewicz advocates for a bill to devote more funding to finding exploited children.

She was taken to another state, chained in a basement and, for four days, raped, beaten and tortured. “My degradation was shared live, to an audience, over streaming video,” she said.

A FBI internet crimes task force rescued her less than a week after she was abducted. Now, 13 years later, Kozakiewicz is advocating for “Alicia’s Law,” which would secure more funding for child exploitation task forces in Washington and other states.

Law enforcement agencies have limited resources for rescuing many victims of child pornography, Kozakiewicz says. “They have to look into these children’s eyes and say ‘I don’t have the ability to come get you’,” she said. “I know who you are, I know where you are and I know what’s happening to you, but I can’t come save you because I don’t have the manpower.”

Senate Bill 5215 would use unclaimed lottery prize money to fund child exploitation investigations. Sen. Pam Roach is prime sponsor of the bill to allocate up to $2 million every two years to Washington’s branch of Internet Crimes Against Children, one of 61 national task forces dedicated to ending child exploitation online.

Most of the money from unclaimed prizes stays in the state lottery fund to use for other prizes, but one-third is deposited in the development strategic reserve account.

Rep. David Sawyer is sponsoring House Bill 1281, which adds a $1,000 fine per image or video containing child pornography.

Seattle Police Captain Mike Edwards commands the Washington state task force, which in 2014 received more than 16,000 leads. It’s the job of six full-time employees to watch child pornography to identify victims and help prosecute sex offenders.

The task force needs more labor to handle its caseload, Edwards said. It’s a tough job to do for more than a few years, he said, and it can take years before a position is filled. “You don’t want to force anybody to do this,” he said. “It’s something they have to decide on their own.”

Local police departments offer some resources to assist with cases, but Edwards says agencies need more funding to devote full-time employees to child exploitation cases. “We’re getting crushed by the number of reports,” he said. Funding would help pay for more devoted employees.

Seven states have passed similar bills and Washington is one of five states considering “Alicia’s Law” this year. Both bills have received public hearings, but have not yet been scheduled for a vote.

Categories: Criminal Justice

Wednesday recap on ‘Legislative Review’

By | January 29, 2015 | 0 Comments

Here’s our 15-minute recap of Wednesday’s legislative activities on “Legislative Review.” We cover a bill known as “Sheena’s Law” named after the victim of a murder-suicide in Spokane. Plus, mobile home owners and landlords clash over a bill that would make changes to leases. The show also has highlights from a debate over a bill known by supporters as the Early Start Act.

“Legislative Review” airs nightly at 6:30 and 11 p.m. on TVW.

Rep. Klippert: Repeal legal marijuana, recognize fetus in murder cases

By | January 21, 2015 | 0 Comments

Two controversial measures could appear before lawmakers this session – a bill to repeal recreational marijuana and another that would recognize a fetus as a victim if a crime is committed against a pregnant mother.

Rep. Brad Klippert

Rep. Brad Klippert plans to introduce legislation to repeal Initiative 502, the voter-approved measure legalizing marijuana, he told TVW. “Possession and consumption of marijuana by our children is skyrocketing. The black market for marijuana is skyrocketing,” he said Wednesday. “It’s not being a positive thing for our state – it’s actually having some negative effects.

The Kennewick Republican will need a majority of lawmakers to agree in order to repeal the measure. Two-thirds of lawmakers must vote repeal, suspend or amend an initiative within two years of passage. Since I-502 was approved in 2012, it doesn’t have to meet that standard and could be repealed by a simple majority, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

Other lawmakers have introduced reforms to the state’s legal marijuana system. The so-called “Comprehensive Marijuana Reform Act,” introduced Wednesday, would merge I-502 with the state’s medical marijuana system, which has been largely unregulated since the initiative was implemented.

Another bill Klippert plans to introduce would would make it a crime to kill a fetus in some circumstances. If a suspect kills an unborn child during a crime against the pregnant mother, he or she could be charged with first-degree murder.

Klippert, a Benton County Sheriff’s officer, says the bill comes after he responded to a triple murder with a pregnant victim. “Now, the way the law is written, we cannot charge that suspect with aggravated murder of that child,” he said.

Rep. Roger Goodman, the Kirkland Democrat who chairs the House Public Safety Committee, said the bill will stir debate. “The question of viability or personhood of a child not yet born is probably the most controversial issue that we deal with in the legislature,” Goodman said. “That issue will certainly come up when we hear this proposal.”

Klippert and Goodman will appear on TVW’s The Impact with Anita Kissee at 7 and 10 p.m. Wednesday.

Bill would reduce drug possession charge from felony to misdemeanor

By | January 16, 2015 | 0 Comments

Drug possession would no longer be a felony in Washington state, under a bill being considered in the state House.

Possessing one ounce or less of a controlled substance would become simple misdemeanor. The maximum penalty for drug possession now, as a Class C felony, is five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. House Bill 1024 would reduce penalties to a maximum of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Rep. Sherry Appleton, Poulsbo Democrat and prime sponsor of the bill, told a House committee Friday that reducing the charge would save the state millions and allow offenders to move on without the barrier of a felony. “We’re still going to hold people accountable,” she said.

A felony makes it difficult for offenders to find jobs, housing and more, Mary Clare Kersten of Sensible Washington told the committee. “Addiction is a illness and it should rightfully be combated with treatment instead of punishment,” she said. “A felony is a label we can’t shed,” she said.

Some worry the bill would encourage addiction. James McMahan Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs said the measure sends the wrong message. “It’s probably time we send the message ‘it’s OK to be sober,’ ” he said.

Appleton says reducing the charge would save the state in prison costs that could be used to fund education and other priorities. Candice Bock says some of that cost would land on cities — about $4.5 million next year.

Voters in California approved a similar measure last year. Lawmakers here tried to pass a similar bill last session, but it did not make it out of the same House committee.

Categories: Courts, Criminal Justice