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D.C. Mayor To Veto Criminal Code Reform; It May Become Law Anyway

Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser said she would veto an overhaul of the city’s criminal code that the D.C. Council unanimously approved in November. Bowser’s office and law enforcement leaders had expressed objections over certain aspects of the legislation, the Washington Post reports. The move might be a symbolic one. The council needs just a two-thirds majority to override the veto, which one council member said it would do. Two of the 13 members are new to the body and did not vote on the legislation last year. If it becomes law, the bill would eliminate most mandatory minimum sentences, allow for jury trials in almost all misdemeanor cases, and reduce the maximum penalties for offenses such as burglaries, carjackings and robberies. The law would effect in three years, giving courts, police and other groups time to prepare for implementation.

Bowser said that a law that reduces penalties sends the wrong message and that she was concerned about overburdening the court system. I think it’s the wrong way to go. We’re also very concerned that the courts have the resources to keep up with the law,” Bowser said. “We’re just now seeing the courts really get going in full force post-pandemic, and what this law would suggest is that the number of trials would skyrocket. We have concerns about all of that.” Defenders of the legislation say the lower maximum penalties more closely match terms that are actually being imposed. Council member Charles Allen, who chaired the public safety committee when the bill was passed, said the bill was “the product of a 16-year-long effort with hard-fought compromise and consensus among the key agencies who administer our criminal justice system.” Paul Butler of the Code Revision Commission Advisory Board, a law professor at Georgetown, said the bill “would help cure some of D.C.’s vast racial inequities and make every community in our city safer.”

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