Crime victims deserve support of lawmakers

If the “duty-to-help” bill makes it through the state Senate, turning your back on a crime victim whose life is clearly in danger could bring criminal charges against you.

Whether House Bill 1236 or its consequences are enough to convince people to do the right thing remains to be seen, but it sets a critical standard for our society and our legal system regarding what “we recognize as appropriate and desirable behavior,” as Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Janice Ellis said. It also gives parents of victims another avenue of recourse in a legal system that often focuses on the rights of defendants rather than victims or their survivors.

This should not be seen as just another law on the books. Our society has many laws in place designed not only to maintain order, but to tell us what is acceptable and what isn’t. Murder is against the law, too, but that hasn’t stopped many people from committing that crime. Yet no one, we hope, would argue for wiping it off the books simply because it has failed to stop the crime altogether.

The duty-to-help bill – sparked by the murders of young people such as Rachel Burkheimer, Michael Schuerhoff and Joey Levick and prime sponsored by Rep. Al O’Brien, D-Mountlake Terrace – sailed through the House of Representatives last week. It isn’t sailing quite so smoothly in the Senate, yet.

The bill was tweaked from previous years to focus specifically on people who witness a crime and know the victim is hurt. Others in the criminal justice system who support the bill say it won’t apply to “ordinary citizens” but to friends and acquaintances of the criminals.

Let’s hope these friends and acquaintances aren’t under the age of 18. Recently, the Senate pushed through a horribly flawed piece of legislation (Senate Bill 5288) that would practically handcuff law enforcement’s ability to interview juveniles up to the age of 17 by requiring those juveniles accused of a crime to have a parent with them during questioning. In the Burkheimer murder, a few of the criminals’ “friends and acquaintances,” who could have and should have called for help, were 17 or younger. They were also involved in the crime and later charged. It shouldn’t be too difficult to see how sticky such situations could be in the future.

Pointing out this irony is not a criticism of the duty-to-help bill, which deserves to pass the Senate. The House, however, should stop the Senate’s flawed bill about questioning juveniles, rather than send our criminal justice system a mixed message that has to be sorted out next session.

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FILE — In this Sept. 17, 2020 file photo, provided by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Chelbee Rosenkrance, of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, holds a male sockeye salmon at the Eagle Fish Hatchery in Eagle, Idaho. Wildlife officials said Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021, that an emergency trap-and-truck operation of Idaho-bound endangered sockeye salmon, due to high water temperatures in the Snake and Salomon rivers, netted enough fish at the Granite Dam in eastern Washington, last month, to sustain an elaborate hatchery program. (Travis Brown/Idaho Department of Fish and Game via AP, File)
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