D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser wants criminals to be held accountable, and she says the changes she’s proposing to the District’s new criminal code to increase penalties for certain crimes will send that message.
The District’s new Revised Criminal Code that passed last month generally keeps police, prosecutors and judges on the same page with things like the penalty a crime is assigned, and what charges fit certain crimes. But Bowser wants the D.C. Council to make changes to the code that she and other critics say is soft on crime.
“People across all eight wards want us to do more to focus on guns and getting guns out of our community, and to address the root causes of violence and expand opportunities for residents who are seeking a better path forward,” Bowser said at a news conference Monday. “But they also want to make sure that we’re holding people accountable, who hurt our city.”
Bowser outlined a set of amendments she said will send a message that “we do not tolerate the use of guns or violence.”
Among them, it updates the legislation to allow public input on a change to policies around jury trials, and the expansion of D.C.’s Second Look program. Her amendments also restore penalties on crimes that the council had reduced, including carjackings, and delays the time when the new code would go into effect to better allow for training and database changes across the criminal justice system.
The move to propose amendments comes after the council voted to override Bowser’s veto last month.
“People we know are tired of violence, and right now, our focus must be on victims and preventing more people from becoming victims,” she said.
Joining her at the news briefing, Chief of Police Robert Contee said his officers pulled 900 more illegal guns off the streets in 2022 compared to the previous year, and referenced three homicides over the weekend that all involved illegal firearms.
“The common denominator for a lot of the things that we see in which the mayor is really focusing on here in these amendments is (things) like holding people accountable, and especially in the space, which shows up most that scares people in the District of Columbia, and that is gun crime. We have to stay focused on that,” Contee said.
Bowser also referenced an amendment that would limit the types of offenses that get a jury trial, which the council expanded with its updated code.
“In the fall, for example, the district’s chief judges raised significant concerns about the impact of the RCCA of 2022 on our courts, already strained by backlogs, vacancies, and low drawer response rates. So the revised Criminal Code Amendment Act of 2023 deletes the expansion of jury-eligible offenses so that it too can receive a stand-alone hearing,” Bowser said.
The RCCA, as it stands, won’t go into effect for three years if it receives Congressional approval.