Inside Opinion

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Tag: bail


Voters’ message: No taxes, no bail, no privatization

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Washington voters are an independent lot. There’s no way to put a party label on the way they voted on Tuesday’s ballot measures.

As they’ve demonstrated time and time again, they don’t like taxes and will repeal them, shrink them or prevent them almost every chance they get.

By approving Initiative 1053 almost two-to-one (as of Thursday), Washingtonians emphatically forbade the Legislature from enacting any new tax without either a two-thirds supermajority in both the House and Senate, or a vote of the people. The clear message: Don’t even think about squeezing more money out of us in the pit of this economic hell.

Initiative 1098 – the proposed income tax on high earners – got crushed by almost the same margin. Voters were rightly suspicious that the Legislature might spread that tax to lower income brackets in the next hard economy.

The fate of I-1098 will probably spook lawmakers away from the concept of a state income tax for another generation. If only voters had been offered a far better version: a constitutionally capped income tax that would reduce – not add to – the state’s excessive sales tax.

While they were at it, Washingtonians repealed the bottled water-and-soda tax the Legislature used to wire a balanced budget together in April. That means the state’s multi-billion-dollar fiscal crisis just got $272 million deeper.

Voters to Legislature: Deal with it.
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Bail amendment a measured response to massacre

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

This year’s general election ballot would most certainly be one question shorter had Maurice Clemmons not killed four Lakewood police officers in cold blood last fall.

On Nov. 2, voters will decide Engrossed Substitute House Joint Resolution 4220 which proposes to give judges greater leeway in denying bail to defendants.

The measure – also known as the Remember Lakewood Constitutional Amendment – probably would have never made it out of the Legislature but for the fact that Clemmons murdered cops six days after bailing out of jail.

But its origin in the crimes’ angry aftermath isn’t a strike against it. Much debate and compromise went into crafting the proposed amendment, which is far more measured than proponents’ opening offer.

Law enforcement and Gov. Chris Gregoire first wanted to give judges sweeping authority to deny bail whenever they deemed the public at risk – a standard similar to the federal system’s. The Legislature pushed back with proposals to target only those dangerous defendants charged with the most serious crimes.

Legislators and the governor met in the middle with a proposed amendment that would apply only to those defendants charged with the most serious felonies.

Sponsors estimate the amendment could affect roughly 4,100 of the more than 53,000 criminal defendants prosecuted each year in Washington state – but only if a judge first finds “clear and convincing evidence” that the defendant has a “propensity for violence” and poses a “substantial likelihood” of danger to the community.

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A criminal gang merits criminal conspiracy charges

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

There’s never been a spectacle quite like it in a state court.

Thirty-two accused criminal conspirators – alleged members of the Hilltop Crips – crowded into one courtroom, with 30 defense attorneys, four prosecutors and more than 20 law-enforcement officers. Outside, sheriff’s deputies patrolling the lobbies and exterior of the County-City Building.

That’s what a major conspiracy case against a street gang looks like. Other states have successfully pursued such cases, as have federal prosecutors, but this is a first for Washington’s criminal justice system.

The strategy is promising, and the target looks well-chosen.

The Hilltop Crips – whose origins go back to the 1980s – have been described as Tacoma’s oldest criminal gang. A police offensive devastated them in the 1990s, but they’ve been mounting an aggressive comeback in recent years.

It must be emphasized that the “Hilltop” in the gang’s name is an anachronism. The Hilltop, once plagued with gang violence, is now one of the safest parts of Tacoma. For the most part, these thugs live elsewhere and commit their crimes elsewhere.
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One Clemmons is enough; fix that compact

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

In attempting to deal with cop-killer Maurice Clemmons, Washington state got shamelessly played by Arkansas.

When Arkansas officials shipped Clemmons here in 2004, they somehow neglected to inform Washington’s corrections people that he’d been convicted of robbery, theft and burglary in that state in 1989.

Then, after Clemmons turned violent last spring, the folks in Little Rock suddenly lost interest in enforcing the terms of his original parole. They withdrew their warrant for his extradition, allowing him to post bail in November, walk out of jail in Tacoma – and gun down four Lakewood police officers.

Washington put a hold on further parolee transfers from Arkansas until better safeguards are in place. And now Washington’s in the wrong?

Apparently so, according to the Interstate Commission for Adult Offender Supervision, an agreement that governs the transfer of parolees among all 50 states.
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House struck right balance on bail bill

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

Cop killer Maurice Clemmons, as cold-blooded and ruthless as his crimes were, is not reason enough to change the state’s criminal justice laws.

He can’t be. Anti-crime legislation aimed squarely at Clemmons would ultimately fail to reform the system in a thoughtful and effective way. No two criminals behave in the same way; no two cases are identical.

The test of any proposed reform should be: Is it merely a response to the last horrific fact pattern, or does it anticipate the huge variances in criminal acts? More importantly, would the change be warranted even in the absence of tragedy?

By both measures, the proposed constitutional amendment passed by the House last week is a winner.

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No sure remedy to anti-cop violence

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Gov. Chris Gregoire and lawmakers have no choice. With six police officers gunned down in three separate attacks since the end of October – a horror unprecedented in this state – Washington’s political leaders must do something to prevent a replay.

Gregoire and others have outlined several proposals, some of which sound promising.

One is a constitutional amendment that would allow judges to deny bail to defendants facing a possible life sentence under Washington’s three strikes law. This conceivably could have kept Maurice Clemmons – the murderer of four Lakewood officers – behind bars. Though charged with felonies that might have sent him away for life under three strikes, he made a stiff $190,000 bail with seemingly little difficulty.

Great care must be taken in drafting this amendment. Bail is a constitutional right – part of the presumption of innocence. A system that summarily tossed defendants into jail until trial, or imposed impossibly high bails, would be operating under a presumption of guilt. If eventually found innocent, a defendant would already have served an unjust sentence.

Constitutionally permissible exceptions would be those cases in which a defendant likely to be found guilty has absolutely nothing to lose by absconding. That might include any prosecution that potentially involves a life sentence. An amendment would make sense, so long as it still permitted a judge to make factual judgments about individual cases, including the strength of the prosecution’s evidence. Presumption of innocence is too precious to throw away, even in the angry aftermath of these outrageous crimes.
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Don’t blame McCarthy and Felnagle for lack of clairvoyance on Clemmons

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

It’s hard to sustain outrage against a dead man. Maurice Clemmons is beyond the reach of public anger, so the anger has to go looking for someone else.

Targets of convenience: the two Pierce County Superior Court judges, John McCarthy and Thomas Felnagle, who allowed Clemmons to post bond and walk out of jail before killing four Lakewood police officers Sunday.

Anger doesn’t have a brain, though. McCarthy and Felnagle are the wrong targets. If we’re looking to pin blame, the best candidate at this point looks like the Arkansas Department of Corrections.
It is indeed true that McCarthy on July 2 set a bail of $190,000 for several felony charges against Clemmons, including second-degree child rape, third-degree assault and malicious mischief. By all accounts, though, $190,000 was a high bail, given the circumstances. Even so – and this is a crucial point – McCarthy still ordered Clemmons held without bail because Arkansas had issued a warrant to extradite him.

Leave aside the warrant for a moment. On the Washington counts, denying bail wasn’t an option. The state constitution decrees that defendants have the right to post bail for all but capital charges. Keep in mind, Clemmons was not a cop-killer on July 2. He was just one of an unending stream of defendants – many charged with serious crimes, including child rape – flowing relentlessly through the court system. Neither McCarthy nor anyone else had a crystal ball to warn them that this particular defendant would explode five months later and gun down four officers.
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