Category Archives: Legislation

Are Long Prison Sentences Necessary?

Image result for free from prison

“For decades, while we made it increasingly difficult to obtain release, we have sent people to prison for longer and longer. We became reliant on extreme sentences, including mandatory minimums, “three-strike” laws, and so-called truth-in-sentencing requirements that limit opportunities for people to earn time off their sentences for good behavior. As a result, the United States laps the world in the number of people it incarcerates, with 2.2 million people behind bars, representing a 500 percent increase over the past four decades, with 1 in 9 people in prison serving a life sentence.”

Moreover, the authors argue that legislation is needed at the federal level and in every state to allow everyone after a certain period in prison the opportunity to seek sentence reductions. Sentence review legislation recognizes that as we have increased the length of prison sentences and limited the ability to obtain release, our prisons have become overwhelmed with people whose current conduct proves further incarceration is not in the public interest.

LONG PRISON SENTENCES DO NOT REDUCE CRIME.

“We increased sentence lengths and made it more difficult for people to be released because we were told it was needed for public safety,” said the authors. “But sending people to prison for long periods does not reduce crime.”

In fact, longer sentences, if anything, create crimeDavid Roodman, a senior adviser for Open Philanthropy, reviewed numerous studies on the impact of incarceration and concluded that “in the aftermath of a prison sentence, especially a long one, someone is made more likely to commit a crime than he would have been otherwise.”

Additionally, the authors say that not only are lengthy prison sentences ineffective at reducing crime, but they have devastated low-income and minority communities. As the Vera Institute aptly put it: “We have lost generations of young men and women, particularly young men of color, to long and brutal prison terms.” While black people are just 13-percent of the country’s population, they account for 40 percent of the people we incarcerate.

If the ineffectiveness of long prison terms or the impact on poor communities of color is not reason enough to revisit lengthy prison sentences, the financial drain of long prison terms is staggering. For example, U.S. prisons spend $16 billion per year on elder care alone. Billions of dollars are diverted to prisons to care for the elderly who would pose no real risk if released when that money could be going to our schools, hospitals, and communities.

Given this reality, the authors say, we need to pursue every option that would safely reduce our prison population. One proposal by the American Law Institute recommends reviewing all sentences after a person has served 15 years in prison. Another example is the bill Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) introduced that would provide sentence review for anyone who has served more than 10 years in prison or who is over 50 years old. Notably, neither proposal is restricted by the type of offense, which is critical, because to combat mass incarceration, to echo the Prison Policy Initiative, reform has “to go further than the ‘low hanging fruit’ of nonviolent drug offenses.”

“Measures that promote sentence review would not automatically release anyone,” say the authors. “Instead, people would be given a chance to show a court that they are no longer a danger to public safety. A judge—after weighing all relevant circumstances, including hearing from any victims and their families—would then decide whether a person should be released.”

And numerous studies have shown that decreasing sentences does not increase crime. A recent Brennan Center for Justice report documented 34 states that reduced both their prison population and their crime rates, the Sentencing Project concluded that unduly long prison terms are counterproductive for public safety, and the Justice Policy Institute found little to no correlation between time spent in prison and recidivism rates.

My opinion? Some crimes need punishment. However, we have forgotten that our justice system is supposed to rehabilitate people, not just punish them. Our policies should reflect the ability of people to change over the course of years—or decades—of incarceration.

Lawmakers Consider Giving Judges More Discretion

Image result for judicial discretion

Great article by James Drew of the News Tribune says that over the next 20 months, state legislators shall study, debate, and vote on what could be the first major reform of Washington’s criminal sentencing law since 1981.

The starting point of the deliberations is a stack of recommendations from a state commission that would give judges more discretion in how they sentence adults convicted of felonies. The change could help the state reduce its reliance on incarceration and move more toward rehabilitation of offenders.

The goal of overhauling the criminal sentencing law is to improve the system by simplifying it, but there are key questions looming for lawmakers, said Rep. Roger Goodman, the Kirkland Democrat who is chairman of the House Public Safety Committee. Disparities — a lack of equality or similarity in a way that is unfair — can occur by race, gender, geography, income and other factors, but the discussion last month touched heavily on race.

At a July 16 legislative work session, Sen. Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma, questioned whether the Criminal Sentencing Guidelines Commission had studied systems in other countries that would help Washington address concerns throughout the United States about “mass incarceration.”

The Legislature adopted the Sentencing Reform Act in 1981 and it took effect three years later. Since then, lawmakers have amended it dozens of times. The state’s three appellate courts and the Supreme Court have issued several rulings interpreting its provisions.

Goodman said there are several recommendations in a July 1 report by the Criminal Sentencing Guidelines Commission that the Legislature can tackle during its 60-day session next year.

Drew reported that a person’s greatest risk of committing another crime after release from confinement is within the first three to six months, according to an analysis by the Council of State Governments.

Under the current system, a judge would have a sentencing range of 12-14 months for a defendant who is convicted of a Class B assault with a deadly weapon — and 36 months tacked on for use of a firearm. The 12-14 month sentence carries a 33 percent off for good behavior in prison, but the 36-month enhancement does not.

“The sentence is opaque and difficult for the public to understand and allows almost no discretion for the trial court,” the commission report said.

One of the reform proposals from the commission would provide a sentence range from 12-24 months, but any sentence between six months and 30 months would be deemed reasonable. The entire sentence would carry the same good behavior in prison provision to reduce the sentence.

My opinion? This is good news. If allowed, a sentencing judge may give more weight to certain intangible factors.  For example, a judge may take account of a defendant’s good deeds in other areas of his life, considering whether the crime is an isolated incident or aberration on the record of an otherwise well-intentioned individual or whether the crime is just one chapter in a life filled with deceit.

Part of my practice includes drafting sentencing memorandums and assembling merit packages for clients convicted or felonies. These merit packages consist of character reference letters, proof of treatment, college transcripts (if applicable) favorable job reviews, security clearances, etc. The goal is to paint a favorable picture of the defendant that describes them beyond the criminal charges.

Vacate Your Pot Conviction

Image result for vacate pot marijuana conviction
On Sunday, June 28th the Marijuana Justice Initiative was signed by Governor Jay Inslee. Consequently, many people with misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor marijuana convictions in Washington state can apply to have those convictions wiped from their records. The new law expands on the governor’s pardon offer in a few ways:
  • A pardon does not vacate a conviction.
  • People with multiple marijuana misdemeanor convictions are eligible.
  • The date of the conviction doesn’t matter.
  • The new law applies to violations of municipal ordinances, not just state law.

If you’re looking to get a conviction vacated, and none of the above limitations apply to you, the process is relatively simple:

  1. Find the court where your conviction occurred. If you’ve been convicted in multiple courts, you’ll need to apply in each court separately.
  2. Fill out the proper paperwork. The form you’ll submit is called a Motion and Declaration for Order Vacating Marijuana Conviction.
  3. File your motion with the court clerk’s office and ask to schedule a hearing. Follow their instructions from there.

Once a court vacates a conviction, the person is clear of all penalties that resulted from it, and it can’t be considered during sentencing for any subsequent conviction, according to a legislative analysis of the bill. Further, a person who has a conviction vacated can state that they have never been convicted of the crime when applying for housing or employment.

My opinion? This is excellent, progressive step toward decriminalizing low-level drug crimes. Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a drug crime. Although Washington State passed initiatives which legalized marijuana possession, it’s comforting that our politicians are moving forward with legislation that gives defendants opportunities to vacate low-level marijuana convictions.

“New Hope Act” Goes In Effect

Image result for vacate criminal conviction

Reporter of the Kitsap Sun wrote an informative article stating that bipartisan legislation called the “New Hope Act” streamlines and modifies the process for people with criminal records to vacate convictions after a period of time.

Binion reports that Tarra Simmons, a Bremerton attorney who after serving a prison sentence for drug-related convictions attended law school, said the new law will not only help those who have turned their lives around but also society at large. Despite her criminal history which denied her the opportunity to take the lawyer licensing exam, the state Supreme Court intervened in 2017, allowing her to take, and pass, the test.

Simmons, who is now the executive director of Civil Survival, an organization that helps people negotiate the hurdles as they reintegrate into society after leaving jail and prison, noted the measure received strong bipartisan support.

“People who have spent some time in prison need a chance to get their lives back on track,” Rep. Drew Hanson, D-Bainbridge Island, sponsor of the measure, said in a statement. “This bill removes some of the barriers that are preventing people from rebuilding their lives and gives them hope for a second chance.” Rep. Michelle Cauldier, R-Port Orchard, also sponsored the measure.

Previously, multiple felony convictions for some offenses could be vacated, but only one misdemeanor. The new law allows multiple misdemeanors to be vacated. The new law also adds some felony offenses to the list of convictions that can be vacated. Depending on the crime, there is a waiting period of three, five and 10 years of good behavior and repayment of legal fees a person must complete before petitioning to have their convictions vacated.

Fines Increase for Carpool Cheaters

Image result for hov lanes cheaters

A new state law that increases fines for carpool lane cheaters goes into effect Sunday.

The base fine will go up by $50, meaning a first-time violator on freeways or in electronic toll lanes will be fined $186. Second-time violators within two years will receive a fine of $336.

Those trying to trick troopers with a dummy or mannequin will have an extra $200 added to their tickets.

The Washington State Patrol has said high-occupancy vehicle lane cheating is the top complaint by commuters in Seattle’s King County. Last year in King County alone, troopers handed out more than 11,000 tickets to violators caught in the carpool lane.

Carpool violators aren’t an uncommon sight. During an emphasis patrol last September, the Washington State Patrol cited 1,671 drivers in three counties within a week. One driver was caught three times.

HERO Program

Drivers can report HOV, HOT lane or ferry line violators online or by calling at 1-877-764-HERO. We will then mail educational materials about HOV, HOT lane and ferry line usage to the registered owner of the vehicle that was seen violating.

First-time HOV lane violators are sent an educational brochure. Second-time HOV lane violators are sent a letter from WSDOT. Third-time HOV lane violators are sent a letter from the Washington State Patrol.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are pulled over for HOV lane violations.

Proposed Legislation Makes It Easier to Remove Criminal Convictions.

Image result for criminal conviction

Excellent article by Lester Black of the Stranger reports that a proposed state law, HB 1041, would make it easier for people to remove misdemeanors and felonies from their criminal record.
Although certain convictions are already eligible to be vacated, or removed from someone’s record, but this proposed law would greatly expedite the vacation process and expand the types of crimes that are eligible for vacation. An explanation of the bill describes which types of convictions are covered.
Rep. Drew Hansen, a Democrat from Bainbridge who is sponsoring the legislation, said he is supporting the bill so old convictions don’t burden people long after they’ve paid their debts to society.

“This bill makes it easier for people to clear their record when people have truly turned their lives around.” ~Representative Drew Hansen

Also, Rep. Morgan Irwin, a Republican from Enumclaw co-sponsoring the legislation, said the proposed law would give an incentive for people to stay out of the criminal justice system.

“This is about giving people that have… made that mistake a reason to not make another one,” Irwin said at a recent legislative hearing.

According to the Stranger staff reporter Lester Black, the bill would not automatically clear anyone’s criminal record. People would still need to get a judge’s approval for each conviction to be vacated, but the bill would make it easier for people to go through the process and expand the types of criminal convictions that are eligible to be removed from people’s records. Some serious crimes such as second-degree burglary and assault would now be eligible under the proposed law. There is also no official estimate for how many people could take advantage of vacating convictions, according to a financial statement attached to the bill.

King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg also spoke in favor of the legislation, noting that the “collateral consequences” a person experiences from a conviction have nothing to do with public safety. Satterberg emphasized that people would still need to convince a judge to vacate their record.

“This is a reward for highly motivated people,” Satterberg said. “We shouldn’t stand in their way, we should encourage that.”

My opinion? This legislation is a step in the right direction. Convictions are crippling. This type of data limits career opportunities, prevents housing, prevents travel and may be used as impeachment evidence should the convicted offender testify in a court hearing.

Midterm Elections Bring Criminal Justice Reforms

Image result for criminal justice reform

Excellent article from the Sentencing Project describes how voters in a number of states considered ballot measures during yesterday’s Midterm Election. Criminal justice reform measures ranged from voting rights to sentencing reform.

Colorado – Abolishing Involuntary Servitude as Punishment

Coloradans approved Amendment A with 65% support; the measure removes language from the state Constitution that allows slavery and involuntary servitude to be used as punishment for the conviction of a crime. Abolish Slavery Colorado organized a broad coalition in support of the constitutional change. Supporters included faith groups and civil rights organizations.

Florida – Expanding the Vote

State residents expanded voting rights to as many as  1.4 million Floridians with a felony conviction by approving Amendment 4 with 64% support; support from 60% of voters was required to approve the ballot measure. Justice involved residents now automatically have the right to vote once they complete their prison, probation or parole sentence; persons convicted of homicide and sex offenses are excluded from the measure.

The state’s lifetime felony voting ban was among the most restrictive in the country, along with Iowa, Kentucky and Virginia which maintain lifetime voting bans for all felonies unless the governor takes action. The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, which organized broad support for the measure, was led by directly impacted residents and garnered more than 800,000 signatures to qualify Amendment 4 for the ballot.

Florida – Retroactivity & Sentencing

Also in Florida, voters approved Amendment 11 with 62% support, a measure that allows sentencing reforms to be retroactive. The amendment repeals language from the state’s ‘Savings Clause’ in the constitution that blocks the legislature from retroactively applying reductions in criminal penalties to those previously sentenced. Statutory law changes are not automatically retroactive; the legislature still has to authorize retroactivity for a particular sentencing reform measure.

Louisiana – Requiring Unanimous Jury Consideration

Louisianans approved Amendment 2, a constitutional change requiring unanimous juries for all felony convictions.  In all other states, except Oregon, a unanimous jury vote is required to convict people for serious crimes; Louisiana was the only state where a person could be convicted of murder without a unanimous jury. Advocacy for Amendment 2 was supported by a broad coalition that advanced criminal justice reforms in recent years. The state’s Democratic and Republican parties endorsed Amendment 2, as well as community groups including Voice of the Experienced, and Americans for Prosperity.

Michigan – Authorized Marijuana Possession

Michiganders approved Proposal 1, a measure that legalizes marijuana for adult recreational use. The change means residents over age 21 will be able to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana on their person and up to 10 ounces in their home. The newly elected governor has signaled support to pardon justice involved residents with prior marijuana convictions and legislation is pending to require judges to expunge misdemeanor marijuana convictions.

Ohio – Rejected Felony Reclassification Measure

Ohio residents rejected Issue 1, a measure that would have reclassified certain drug offenses as misdemeanors and prohibited incarceration for a first and second offense. The measure failed with 65% voting against the sentencing reform. In recent years, voters in California and Oklahoma approved similar ballot initiatives to reclassify certain felonies as misdemeanors with a goal of state prison population reduction.

Washington – Strengthening Police Accountability

Voters passed Initiative 940 and repealed a provision in state law that made it difficult to bring criminal charges against police for deadly force. The Washington law required prosecutors to prove “evil intent” or “malice” when filing charges like manslaughter against police officers. Washingtonians approved the measure with 60% support. I-940 also requires training in de-escalation and mental health for law enforcement officers; requires police to provide first aid to victims of deadly force; and requires independent investigations into the use of deadly force.

My opinion? State initiatives provide an opportunity to civically engage communities on criminal justice policies and build momentum to challenge mass incarceration.

Midterm voters across the nation have spoken. For the most part, their decisions are a step in the right direction. We see an end to involuntary servitude in prison, granting voting rights to some convicted felons, jury unanimity, the legalization of marijuana and the strengthening of police accountability. Good.

Please contact my office of you, a friend or family member face criminal charges. It’s extremely important to hire competent and proactive defense attorney who is knowledgeable of the law.

Federal Legislation to End Cash Bail

Related image

Excellent news article by  of The Intercept discusses how Senator Bernie Sanders introduced legislation to end money bail on the federal level and create incentives for states to follow suit.

According to  , The No Money Bail Act is the latest example of the push from the Democrats to tackle criminal justice reform. It would prohibit money bail in federal criminal cases, provide grants to states that wish to implement alternate pretrial systems, and withhold grant funding from states that continue using cash bail systems.

Additionally, the bail reform “requires a study three years after implementation to ensure the new alternate systems are also not leading to disparate detentions rates,” according to a summary of the bill provided by Sanders’s office.

“It has always been clear that we have separate criminal justice systems in this country for the poor and for the rich,” the summary reads. “A wealthy person charged with a serious crime may get an ankle monitor and told not to leave the country; a poor person charged with a misdemeanor may sit in a jail cell. And this disproportionately affects minorities — fifty percent of all pretrial detainees are Black or Latino.”

In a statement accompanying the release of his bill, Sanders said the following:

“Poverty is not a crime and hundreds of thousands of Americans, convicted of nothing, should not be in jail today because they cannot afford cash bail. In the year 2018, in the United States, we should not continue having a ‘debtor prison’ system. Our destructive and unjust cash bail process is part of our broken criminal justice system – and must be ended.”

Also according to , the idea of eliminating money bail is controversial, even among Democrats, so it is unlikely that the legislation will soon be enacted into law. Indeed, Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., introduced a similar measure in the House in 2016 and 2017, but his bills gained little traction. Last year, Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., introduced a measure to encourage states to reform bail practices, though they did not go as far as calling to eliminate cash bail on the federal level.

Still, these efforts represent a growing sense of urgency among lawmakers to address the racial disparities that plague the criminal justice system. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer last month introduced a bill to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, removing the drug from the Controlled Substances Act. The House passed a tepid prison reform bill that was pushed by President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner in May, and the Senate has introduced similar legislation.

For-profit companies are “making a fortune” off indigent defendants, according to the summary of the Sanders bill. Indeed, the for-profit bail industry makes between $1.4 billion and $2.4 billion a year, the American Civil Liberties Union wrote in a 2017 report. An inability to afford bail leaves defendants across the country languishing in pretrial detention bars for extended periods of time; in 2014, about 60 percent of people in U.S. jails had not been convicted of a crime, the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics reported.

“Pretrial detention should be based on whether or not someone truly should not be freed before their trial,” the summary continued. “It should not depend on how much money they have, or what kind of mood the judge is in on a given day, or even what judge the case happens to come before. We also must insure that jurisdictions do not eliminate cash bail but find pretexts to continue unfairly locking people up before trial.”

State and local governments have made similar efforts in recent years. New Jersey has been at the forefront of the bail reform movement, largely eliminating its cash bail system last year. District attorneys in Brooklyn and Manhattan in January ordered prosecutors not to request bail in most misdemeanor cases. And Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner also fulfilled one of his high-profile campaign promises when he announced an end of cash bail requirements for low-level offenses in February.

My opinion? The movement to end cash bail seems to be gaining momentum. If so, it’d eliminate a significant hurdle in gaining justice for defendants facing criminal charges.

California Eliminates Cash Bail

Image result for cash bail

Great article by Madison Park and Cheri Mossburg of CNN news covers how California will end the cash bail system in a sweeping reform for the state. Rather than requiring defendants to pay in order to be released before trial, their release will hinge on an assessment of their risk to public safety.

On Tuesday, the California Money Bail Reform Act, also known as Senate Bill 10, passed in the State Senate with a vote of 26-12, and the General Assembly by 42-31.
“SB 10 puts all Californians on equal footing before the law and makes public safety the only consideration in pretrial detention. This critical reform is long overdue,” said Toni Atkins, Senate president pro tempore.
“Today, California reforms its bail system so that rich and poor alike are treated fairly,” Gov. Jerry Brown said in a statement.
Brown signed the bill Tuesday, and the new law goes into effect October 1, 2019. California is the first state to eliminate money bail completely, according to the Pretrial Justice Institute, an organization that advocates for pretrial justice reform.
According to reporter Madison Park, critics have long contended that the money bail system perpetuates inequality. While some people are able to quickly get out of jail by posting bail, people who aren’t able to afford it sit in jail until the court takes action, or until they work with a bail bond agent to secure their freedom, which can leave them in debt.
“Abolishing money bail and replacing it with a risk-based system will enhance justice and safety. For too long, our system has allowed the wealthy to purchase their freedom regardless of their risk, while the poor who pose no danger languish in jail,” said Assemblymember Rob Bonta, one the lawmakers who introduced the bill, in a statement.
Under the new law, a pretrial assessment would be done by either court employees or a local public agency that has been contracted to determine a defendant’s risk. That entity would assess the likelihood that the person will not appear in court or commit a new crime while released, and would make a recommendation for conditions of release. The defendant will be assessed as high, medium or low risk. A person who is deemed as high risk, including those arrested for violent felonies, will not be released.
Surprisingly, the ACLU in California expressed disappointment over the bill, saying it “is not the model for pretrial justice and racial equity that California should strive for.”
“It cannot guarantee a substantial reduction in the number of Californians detained while awaiting trial, nor does it sufficiently address racial bias in pretrial decision making,” said the three executive directors of the California ACLU affiliates, Abdi Soltani (Northern California), Hector Villagra (Southern California) and Norma Chávez Peterson (San Diego & Imperial Counties). “Indeed, key provisions of the new law create significant new risks and problems.”
Indeed, the ACLU pulled its support for the bill earlier this month as the it underwent changes in the state legislature.
My opinion? This is a bold, progressive step. The subject of cash bail has always been a cantankerous subject which underscores how justice applies to the privileged vs. the non-privileged. For the underprivileged, defendants who cannot afford to pay bail are more likely to plead guilty to criminal charges. Jail is a terrible place, and getting out as soon as possible is an overwhelming desire for most defendants who find themselves there. There’s no justice in pleading guilty to crimes that we would otherwise not plead guilty to simply to get out of jail.
Let’s wait and see how California does. The success of  California Money Bail Reform Act could determine whether other states adopt similar legislation.
Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges and are held in jail pending the outcome of the case. Chances are, a competent attorney can persuade the judge to lower the bail or even release the defendant without bail on their personal recognizance. For more information, please read my Legal Guide titled, “Making Bail.”

Increase of Uninsured Drivers in WA State

Informative article by Rolf Boone of The Olympian discusses how the number of uninsured motorists in Washington state increased to 17.4 percent between 2012 and 2015, according to the Northwest Insurance Council, which cited a report by the Insurance Research Council.

Washington state is now seventh highest in the country for uninsured drivers.

“It is concerning that in our region’s thriving economy, with more vehicles than ever on our roadways, that a growing percentage of drivers are uninsured, breaking the law and imposing higher costs on insured drivers,” said Kenton Brine, Northwest Insurance Council President in a statement.

The five states with the highest number of uninsured motorists:

-Florida, 26.7 percent.

-Mississippi, 23.7 percent.

-New Mexico, 20.8 percent.

-Michigan, 20.3 percent.

-Tennessee, 20 percent.

Under RCW 46.30.020, it is a civil infraction to drive without insurance. The legislative intent of this law says, “It is a privilege granted by the state to operate a motor vehicle upon the highways of this state. The legislature recognizes the threat that uninsured drivers are to the people of the state.”

Driving without insurance can be potentially damaging. Along with facing civil penalties, police officers may find some excuse to search your vehicle and/or investigate you for DUI, Driving While License Suspended, etc. Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face these or any other charges relating to driving. You may need competent defense counsel to get these charges reduced or dismissed.



Alexander F. Ransom

Attorney at Law
Criminal Defense Lawyer

119 North Commercial St.
Suite #1420
Bellingham, WA 98225

117 North 1st Street
Suite #27
Mount Vernon, WA 98273

Phone: (360) 746-2642
Fax: (360) 746-2949

Consultation Request

Footer Consultation Request

Copyright 2019 Law Offices of Alex Ransom, PLLC   |   Sitemap   |   Website Design by Peter James Web Design Studio
error: Content is protected !!