Bail rights limits look headed to ballot

March 5, 2010 

A long-awaited deal reached Thursday by legislators could pave the way for voters to decide whether to put new limits on the right to bail enshrined in the state constitution.

Gov. Chris Gregoire helped broker the agreement between House and Senate members, which incorporates the central idea in her original proposal: allow judges to lock up those they determine to be a threat to public safety.

Lawmakers call their resolution the Lakewood Police Officers’ Memorial Act, and the slain officers are sure to feature prominently in any campaign to convince voters that someone like Maurice Clemmons – free on bail on a charge of child rape when he killed the four officers last November – needs to be in jail.

Not that it will take much convincing, Rep. Mike Hope figures.

“I think this is one of those things that’s going to be self-selling,” said Hope, the Seattle police officer who introduced the proposed constitutional amendment.

First, two-thirds of the House must agree. House members said that vote could come Sunday.

The Senate gave unanimous blessing Thursday to the latest compromise.

The legislation has gone through revision upon revision as police groups and their allies sought the toughest possible measure and legislators such as Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, urged caution in restricting a constitutional right. Only suspects facing the death penalty may be denied bail now.

“What we have done is to balance two very important considerations: the safety and security of Washington citizens, and (their) civil liberties,” Kline said.

The new language gives judges wide authority. The Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs sees the proposal as tougher than either of the competing proposals being advanced by the House and Senate before the governor intervened.

Suspects facing life in prison would be considered for denial of bail. A judge would have to find clear evidence of a violent history that would put people in danger if the accused criminal were released.

But Kline said judges must seriously weigh an offender’s potential danger, a requirement that “means more than ‘he might hurt somebody, maybe.’”

Supporters said it would have allowed judges to consider detention without bail of 5,500 suspects last year, up from just nine under current law.

“I think it’s a tool that judges have been wanting, and I think that they will use it,” police council director Jamie Daniels said. “They don’t want to release these dangerous people back into the communities.”

Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826

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