Harder time for sex offenders

By Jim Haley

Herald Writer

Sex offenders who commit serious crimes will be treated more harshly under a new state law.

In fact, serious offenses could net offenders up to life in prison if a state board doesn’t choose to release them. Others may be in for lengthy stints of close supervision after they are released from jail.

The tougher stance on sex offenses is the result of a little ballyhooed measure passed in the waning hours of the last legislative special session.

"I see it as being able to keep folks (in jail) who clearly indicate they place our citizens at high risk," said state Sen. Jeanine Long, R-Mill Creek, who has been trying to get this bill or something like it through the Legislature for five years.

"We’ve all seen tragedies in our communities because somebody has been released of high risk," Long said. "Nobody argues with that."

But criminal defense lawyers said they were caught off guard by the passage of what one said was the most important piece of criminal law legislation since the Sentencing Reform Act of 1981.

The reform act is the law that called for phasing out indeterminate sentences and the parole board, settling instead on specific prison terms. Judges look at a sentencing range based on the seriousness of the crime and the defendant’s past history to settle on a sentence.

But the new law, Senate Bill 6151, harkens back to the old way of doing things for sex crimes. Under it:

  • ?Penalties may be longer because offenders have to prove to the Indeterminate Sentencing Review Board that they are safe to be released from prison. If not, the board can keep someone in prison for the maximum length of time allowed under the law. That’s life in prison for all serious Class A felonies.

    The review board replaced the old parole board to decide on the release of people who were convicted of laws broken before 1981.

  • ?After someone is released, he or she will be kept under close state supervision and could be returned to jail for violating conditions of release.

  • ?Several new sex crimes were elevated to make them Class A felonies.

    While Long and others who seek harsher treatment of sex offenders may be buoyed by the bill, the measure is likely to echo through the Snohomish County court system and the state Department of Corrections.

    The likely and most immediate impact will be more criminal trials on court dockets, lawyers and judges said.

    Criminal defense lawyers may be much less likely to recommend that their clients plead guilty to sex crimes, said David Allen, a Seattle lawyer who works on behalf of the Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

    Defendants won’t have much to lose.

    "This is basically life on parole for all sex crimes," Allen said. "This is the biggest change in criminal law I’ve seen in 20 years."

    Allen is also concerned about innocent people being convicted after disputes arise in child-custody cases and one party uses a claim of sexual abuse of a child as a "weapon."

    An innocent person may well be stuck in prison longer, Allen added, because he or she refuses to admit guilt and may be deemed not amenable for treatment or release.

    "My only hope is jurors, when they find out how draconian this is, will be more careful with this kind of stuff," Allen said.

    Long said she puts a lot of faith in the jury system not convicting innocent people. She concedes the law will mean additional costs, but that’s a price to be paid for community security, she added.

    The impact will be felt throughout the justice system.

    "It’s a dramatic change. My concern is resources," said Jim Townsend, chief criminal deputy prosecutor in Snohomish County.

    He’s expecting more trials. "It could affect everybody."

    Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Linda Krese said there will be an effect on civil trials. Under the law, criminal trials must be given priority because of speedy trial rules. That means longer waits for litigants in civil trials.

    She expressed no opinion on the wisdom of the bill, but doesn’t think the effects on the rest of the system were considered by the Legislature.

    At the state level, Department of Corrections chief Joe Lehman said he also will need more resources to supervise sex offenders when they get out of prison.

    "I think this will be costly," Lehman said.

    However, the full effect won’t be felt for years, and his department will have to give a lot of thought as to how to supervise people for extended periods.

    Snohomish County defense lawyer Karen Halverson, who handles a lot of sex cases, put it this way: "It’s not a good time to be a sex offender."

    You can call Herald Writer Jim Haley at 425-339-3447

    or send e-mail to haley@heraldnet.com.

    Talk to us

  • More in Local News

    Chap Grubb, founder and CEO of second-hand outdoor gear store Rerouted, stands inside his new storefront on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023, in Gold Bar, Washington. Rerouted began as an entirely online shop that connected buyers and sellers of used gear.  (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
    Used outdoor gear shop Rerouted finds a niche in Gold Bar

    Seeking to keep good outdoor gear out of landfills, an online reselling business has put down roots in Gold Bar.

    Naval Station Everett. (Chuck Taylor / Herald file)
    Everett man sentenced to 6 years for cyberstalking ex-wife

    Christopher Crawford, 42, was found guilty of sending intimate photos of his ex-wife to adult websites and to colleagues in the Navy.

    Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers speaks to the crowd during an opening ceremony at the new PAE2 Amazon Fulfillment Center on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023, in Arlington, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
    Snohomish County executive pitches $1.66B budget

    Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers announced his proposed budget Tuesday afternoon. Public comment is slated to begin Oct. 10.

    Kristy Carrington, CEO of Providence Swedish of North Puget Sound, speaks during a Healthcare Summit at Everett Community College on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
    Providence, Optum and Premera discuss challenges at Everett summit

    Five panelists spoke on labor shortages, high costs and health care barriers Wednesday at Everett Community College.

    A salmon leaps out of the water while migrating up Wood Creek on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023 in Monroe, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
    As Woods Creek railroad trestle comes down, a new doorway for salmon

    The trestle was a toxic, physical barrier for salmon since 1939. Now, migrating fish will benefit from its removal.

    Mike Bredstrand, who is trying to get back his job with Lake Stevens Public Works, stands in front of the department’s building on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023, in Lake Stevens, Washington. Bredstrand believes his firing in July was an unwarranted act of revenge by the city. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
    Lake Stevens worker was fired after getting court order against boss

    The city has reportedly spent nearly $60,000 on attorney and arbitration fees related to Mike Bredstrand, who wants his job back.

    Schools still without water after service restored to Tulalip homes

    The affected area included Quil Ceda Elementary, as well as Heritage and Legacy high schools.

    A memorial for a 15-year-old shot and killed last week is set up at a bus stop along Harrison Road on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
    Teen boy identified in fatal shooting at Everett bus stop

    Bryan Tamayo-Franco, 15, was shot at a Hardeson Road bus stop earlier this month. Police arrested two suspects.

    Mt. Baker visible from the summit of Mt. Dickerman on a late summer day in 2017. (Caleb Hutton / The Herald)
    Hornets pester hikers on popular Mountain Loop trails

    “You cannot out run the stings,” one hiker wrote in a trip report. The Forest Service has posted alerts at two trailheads.

    Most Read