The District of Columbia City Council voted to force through revisions of the district's criminal code that will soften penalties on violent crimes, overriding a veto from the mayor's office. Mayor Muriel Bowser vetoed the Revised Criminal Code Act this month after the council voted unanimously to adopt it in November, reports Fox News. Ward Two Councilmember Brooke Pinto, who voted to overturn the veto, argued Tuesday that "allowing the veto to stand would be a significant step back in our work to modernize the criminal code, negating years of work, compromise and engagement by the council." The overhaul of the criminal code includes reduced maximum sentences, the elimination of nearly all mandatory minimum sentences, and expanded rights to jury trials by those accused of misdemeanors. Criminal justice reform advocates say the bill is necessary to modernize the law, which was written in 1901, and ensures that punishments are proportionate to the crimes committed.
"It is a long overdue overhaul of our criminal code, which was first handed down to us from Congress back in 1901, a Congress that, if you can believe it, is even more dysfunctional and unrepresentative ... than what we have today," said Ward Six Councilmember Charles Allen. Opponents have sounded the alarm on provisions that would allow D.C. inmates to ask for early release 20 years into their sentence, even those accused of violent crimes like murder or sexual assault. "Anytime there's a policy that reduces penalties, I think that sends the wrong message. That takes the focus off using guns or possessing guns, and I think that's the wrong way to go," Bowser wrote about her decision to veto. She said, "I'm also very concerned the courts have the resources to keep up with the law. And we are just now seeing the courts really get going full force post-pandemic, and what this law would suggest is that the number of trials would skyrocket." D.C. City Council's Tuesday decision sends the bill to Congress, which has 60 days to review it.