Amid robust discussion about the District’s response to violent crime, the Revised Criminal Code Act (RCCA) faces yet another obstacle in its passage: congressional Republicans who remain adamant about striking it down.
Meanwhile, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) expressed plans to introduce legislation removing elements of the RCCA and bringing them before the D.C. Council as individual bills.
Key provisions include expansion of jury trials and the Second Look Amendment Act, and reduction of penalties for carjacking and burglary offenses.
If passed, Bowser’s legislation, the Revised Criminal Code Act of 2023, would also delay RCCA implementation until 2027.
The mayor said she revealed her intentions to D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) and Council member Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2), the latter of whom chairs the council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety.
“This isn’t about adding penalties. It’s about looking at our status quo and whatever we do to update [the criminal code] makes the District safer,” Bowser said Monday. “We will stay focused on creating opportunities for those who want a path forward, but won’t excuse violent behavior,” she added.
Rumblings in Congress about District Crime, Home Rule
The House Rules Committee conducted a hearing on the evening of Feb. 6 about resolutions striking down the RCCA and legislation that expands voting rights to non-citizens.
Congressional members who supported the resolution against the RCCA, introduced by Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.), cited Bowser’s veto of the legislation and opposition from the D.C. police union.
In January, the D.C. Council overturned Bowser’s veto of the RCCA in a 12-1 vote.
The RCCA’s unanimous passage in November further exacerbated debate about how District officials have responded to crime.
While a contingent of community members, activists and advocates have expressed support for holistic approaches to crime prevention, frustrated residents continue to decry what they call the influence of out-of-touch progressives.
Some people, like former ANC commissioner K. Denise Rucker Krepp, took their disdain for RCCA to the next level by demanding congressional leaders strike down the legislation during the congressional review process.
During a Feb. 3 press conference, Bowser spoke against congressional interference. However, she, once again, acknowledged that some District residents had misgivings about the RCCA, particularly aspects said to reduce penalties for some violent offenses.
Days later, all 13 D.C. Council members signed a letter demanding GOP House leaders reconsider both resolutions.
Mendelson also contacted House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.).
Council member Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1), who herself overcame a tough-on-crime primary challenger last spring, released a statement decrying what she described as GOP’s encroachment on District sovereignty.
Nadeau would later tell The Informer that District residents value effective solutions to violent crime, much like what the RCCA provides.
“It makes it easier for prosecutors to achieve justice for our victims and it makes it clearer for judges to know what sentences are available and what leeway they have,” Nadeau said.
“Clarity in the law is something we should always strive for,” she added. The lack of clarity that’s been there for more than 100 years has absolutely contributed to situations where prosecutors won’t take a case to trial because they think they’ll lose.”
More Than a Decade of Work in Jeopardy
If passed in its current form, the RCCA, starting in 2025, will revamp the District’s more-than-a-century-old criminal code to create more uniformity in how crimes are classified and how the court system determines criminal liability.
Such changes will lead to shorter sentences for non-violent offenses while allowing prosecutors to seek harsher sentences for more serious offenses, including those involving the use of a firearm. Other aspects of the RCCA include the elimination of mandatory minimums for criminal offenses and the implementation of jury trials for misdemeanors.
Under the RCCA, those convicted of crimes at the age of 25 and older could also petition for sentence reduction under the Second Look Amendment Act.
On Monday, Mendelson declined to provide remarks on Bowser’s legislation, which at that point hadn’t yet been introduced.
He instead decided to focus entirely on House Republicans’ efforts to strike down the RCCA, saying that if the RCCA doesn’t survive the congressional review period, more than a decade of work to update an archaic criminal code would be squandered.
“There is no law that can’t be reconsidered and revised so it’s appropriate for the mayor to do that but the issue is first and foremost, Congress shouldn’t step in,” Mendelson said. “It’s clear that the current code lacks definition. What we passed was a well-thought-out, debated legislation. Simply overturning it leaves us with nothing. The focus is that the house shouldn’t overturn it.”
Sam, great coverage on the issue of Congress blocking the offender friendly revised criminal code.
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