Olympia, WA – Washington lawmakers are considering a bill that would lessen the penalty for fatal drive-by shootings in order to promote racial equality.
House Bill 1692, the brainchild of Rep. David Hackney (D-Tukwila) and Rep. Tarra Simmons (D-Bremerton), seeks to boost “racial equality in the criminal legal system by eliminating drive-by shooting as a basis for elevating” first-degree murder to first-degree aggravated murder.
Hackney and Simmons’ bill, which they pre-filed ahead of the Jan. 10, 2022 legislative session kickoff, would be retroactive, so criminals already convicted of previous drive-by shootings could also benefit, KTTH reported.
Under current Washington state law, drive-by shootings may be charged as aggravated first-degree murder under certain circumstances at the discretion of the prosecutor, which is already a rare occurrence.
Aggravated first-degree murder is a class A felony punishable by a mandatory life sentence without parole, KTTH reported.
By abolishing the aggravated first-degree murder charging option, violent offenders convicted of first-degree murder face a minimum of 20 years to life.
Most first-degree murder sentences in Washington state range from 20-30 years, according to KTTH.
Under the proposed bill, anyone who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in a case where a drive-by shooting was the only aggravating factor “must be returned to the sentencing court or the sentencing court’s successor for entry of a conviction of murder in the first degree and sentencing according to the sentencing guidelines in effect on the date of the offense.”
The bill would also benefit convicted felons who carried out their violent offenses prior to the age of 21 by giving the court “full discretion to depart from mandatory sentencing requirements,” thereby paving the way for their release from prison.
Life sentences without parole are already prohibited for juvenile offenders under Washington state law, KTTH reported.
Hackney, who hails from an area fraught with drive-by shootings, refused to respond to multiple requests for comment on the proposed legislation, according to the news outlet.
Simmons defended the bill, arguing that the current law is an example of “systemic racism” because the aggravated classification targets “gangs that were predominantly young and black,” KTTH reported.
Simmons, who was elected to office eight years after she was released from a 30-month prison sentence for theft and drug-related offenses, is an attorney and civil rights activist who has been pushing a criminal justice reform agenda for years, according to The Seattle Times.