DC Council Set To Lessen Penalties For Violent Crimes

The D.C. Council is looking to soften penalties for many violent crimes. This move will override Democrat Mayor Muriel Bowser’s veto of sweeping criminal reform legislation.

If the Revised Criminal Code Act of 2022 is successfully passed, the maximum penalties for crimes such as robberies, carjacking, and burglaries will be reduced. Most mandatory minimum sentences attached to offenses will be eliminated. This means that D.C. inmates serving time for violent crimes like murder can ask for early release 20 years into their sentence.

The bill will also allow most misdemeanor cases to be presided over by jurors.

While law enforcement figures said the Revised Criminal Code Act of 2022 would lead to a surge in crime, the progressive council insists that it makes the law fairer and ensures that punishments meted out to criminals are proportionate to the crimes they committed. Critics, however, say that the bill will cripple the already overly-burdened court system.

Bowser’s opposition to the bill is premised on the fear that it sends the wrong message. “Anytime there is a policy that reduces penalties, I think it sends the wrong message,” she stated when she vetoed the bill on Jan. 3.

Among those supporting the overhaul is new D.C. Attorney General Brian Schwalb, who stated in a tweet that “Reforms to DC’s 122-year-old criminal code—passed before women and Black residents enjoyed fundamental rights—are sorely needed.”

“This bill will improve public safety and provide long overdue clarity and fairness in our justice system. RCCA should be the law of the District,” he continued.

The council will be voting on whether to override Bowser’s veto on Tuesday. The body, which is completely made up of Democrats, is expected to choose to override the veto. They will then send the bill to Congress for federal lawmakers to review within 60 days.

If Congress disapproves of the bill, it may enact a joint resolution to that effect. Once it gets to that stage, it will be left to President Joe Biden to approve the resolution and prevent the act from becoming law.