DC attempts to update century-old criminal code

Politics

(NewsNation) — Washington D.C.’s City Council is attempting to rewrite a criminal code that hasn’t been updated in 100 years.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser vetoed the Revised Criminal Code Act, but the council is set to meet Tuesday and is expected to override the veto.

The revised code was unanimously approved by the council after years of studies and proposals. One big change would be the elimination of most mandatory minimum sentences. The code would also reduce maximum sentences and allow for a jury trial for misdemeanors.

Bowser’s veto was driven in part by the fact the mayor believes the community wants to see more accountability for gun violence and that it would weaken the ability of the criminal defense system to protect people and punish offenders.

Washington D.C. Neighborhood Advisory Council Vice Chair Chander Jayaraman said the reduced penalties send the wrong message as D.C. deals with rising gun violence.

“What it really does is reduces penalties for people who’ve been previously convicted of a violent crime with a gun. And the second time if they’re caught again, with a gun, it reduces their penalty, and it’s it’s not the right signal to send,” he said.

Defenders of the revised code say it’s a needed update that establishes more consistency in sentencing. They also note the code provides more precise definitions for crimes, and revisions to penalties go along with that.

Jayaraman said he agrees the code needs updating, but that simple updates should be passed first and more controversial ones, like reducing mandatory minimums, should be done separately.

“I don’t think there’s any controversial question that it needs to be updated. The last time it was done was 1901. That’s not what’s at issue here,” Jayaraman said.

Even if the council overrides Bowser’s veto, it’s not the end for the code. Because D.C. is not a state, the revised code will be subject to a 60-day review by Congress before it can be considered passed.

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