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.
Read more »