Crime should fit time for juveniles

When do you know a crime is serious?

  • Tuesday, June 9, 2009 3:39am
  • Opinion

Political

Columnist

When do you know a crime is serious?

When it is seriously punished. A convict doing life without parole obviously did something more serious than someone doing 90 days in county lockup.

So with that in mind, is it a serious crime if a juvenile is caught with a firearm on the streets?

Every politician holding any office in either party will insist that yes, of course it’s a serious offense for a 15-year old to be packing a .357.

But how does the law punish him?

Here’s a quick quiz: If a 15-year old is caught after midnight on the streets with a handgun in his waistband, he can serve as little as:

A. A single day in juvenile detention.

B. A week.

C. 30 days.

D. None of the above.

Answer: D. According to King County Executive Dan Satterberg, he is eligible for no detention time at all.

And if he’s caught again?

The answer is the same. Not until his fourth conviction would tougher standards kick in – tough, that is, by juvenile justice standards. He’d still only do two to three months.

Satterberg says the message on the streets is clear: “We’re saying if we catch them with a gun and they haven’t used it yet, it’s no big deal.”

Should it be? Satterberg thinks so. It would take a simple change in state law to make it happen. But “simple” doesn’t mean “easy.” There is a built-in lobby against any tougher treatment of criminal activity, period, and that lobby has the advantage of state finances being stretched so thin that many criminals are getting their sentences reduced.

But there is also precedent for getting tougher. Back in 1995, the state’s voters qualified the “Hard Time for Armed Crime” initiative, which soon became law (disclosure time: I co-authored the measure and chaired the campaign for its passage). It was written to add more time for any offender who illegally used, possessed or obtained a firearm. It has worked well, but the law amended only the adult sentencing grid. The juvenile code remained the same.

With bullets flying all over King County, now would be a good time to change it. Seattle’s mayor has repeatedly insisted that the state should forbid law-abiding people from carrying concealed weapons on city property, including parks. Aren’t Glock toting punks in street gangs a greater threat to public safety? And yet, not a single word from Mayor Nickels about tougher penalties for armed juvenile thugs. How come?

If Seattle’s mayor won’t act, and the legislature and Governor don’t act, then this issue is a fastball down the middle for Attorney general Rob McKenna. We’re not talking about a quality of life issue here. This is an issue of life and death. The body count is real. And the cost of doing nothing means the count will continue to rise.

More in Opinion

Supreme Court resets the playing field

The ruling on the Masterpiece Bakery v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case wasn’t a win for the right or a loss for the left; it’s a chance to do things right the second time around.

Supreme Court ruling shows sanity, moderation

The 14th Amendment equal protection clause does not negate the First Amendment religious freedom clause.

Initiative signatures are the new greenbacks

As of Wednesday, June 6, petitions for four statewide initiatives were getting circulated.

Public record battle brings in a mediator

A taskforce is also being put together, but it’s not clear who will be on it.

One almond latte, if you please | Wally’s World

There was a time in the distant past when a friend and… Continue reading

Eyman risking retirement funds on car tab initiative

Will the $500,000 investment be enough to get the initiative on a ballot?

U.S. isn’t the only nation flirting with trade wars

There’s another brewing between Alberta and British Columbia.

I wish I could stay in Enumclaw | Guest Columnist

There is a kindness and decency and desire to be a community in Enumclaw.

We live in frightening times

Our country is being torn apart from limb to limb, coast to coast.

Voting habits tied to feelings of security

The dangers of authoritarianism are a far greater threat to the nation than seeing rising racial equality and religious diversity brought about by immigration.

Gun rights advocates won the battle, but may lose the war

NRA leaders will need to decide if it’s worth putting resources into a fight in a Left Coast state versus investing in efforts to keep Republicans in control of Congress to prevent ideas like this initiative from becoming federal law.

Trump not accomplishing as much as supporters think

This is in response to Craig Chilton’s letter claiming Trump’s presidency is not a mistake because of all of his “accomplishments,” 81 signed pieces of legislation.