Opinion | Don’t forget these details about the revised D.C. criminal code

Paul Butler’s March 16 Thursday Opinion commentary, “I helped revise the D.C. criminal code. Biden and Bowser are wrong.,” missed an important point about the history of misdemeanor jury trials in the District. Consequently, he obscured the remedy he seeks.

In the early 1990s, when D.C eliminated the right to misdemeanor jury trials in most cases, it was in response to the increase in crime attendant to the crack epidemic then raging in the city. Misdemeanor jury trials were clogging the court system, siphoning resources from more serious offenses, of which there were many. However, by removing most jury trials from the court dockets, the city acted circuitously. The city did not directly ban most misdemeanor jury trials.

Supreme Court precedent holds that the Sixth Amendment presumptively mandates jury trials upon demand whenever the maximum term of incarceration for a charged offense exceeds six months. Before 1994, local D.C. law granted jury trials to those accused of offenses whose maximum term of incarceration was more than 90 days. So, the D.C. Council simply reduced the penalty for most misdemeanors from one year to 180 days (about six months) and increased the statutory minimum for jury trials to those with sentences of more than 180 days. The result was that misdemeanor jury trials became nearly extinct in D.C.

The solution to the misdemeanor jury trial issue thus becomes obvious. The D.C. Council might simply increase the maximum penalty for misdemeanors to more than six months. Jury trials would then be constitutionally and statutorily mandated in nearly all misdemeanors. Surely, Congress would not balk at the increased penalties.

Vincent A. Jankoski, Silver Spring

I agree with much of what Paul Butler wrote, but he ended up missing the point of why the president and Congress went against the revised criminal code.

He delineated what D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) suggested be changed, and, yes, while other states might allow for jury trials for misdemeanors, the mayor was right that, at this time, there are not enough judges to accomplish the same in D.C. Contrary to the states, the president nominates and the Senate confirms D.C. judges — on their time frame. On the issue of reducing allowable maximum sentences, it is simply the public perception. The mayor understood the optics. The public perceives the change as being weak on crime.

As to Mr. Butler suggesting “the will of the people be damned,” the mayor also represents the will of the people in D.C. The president and members of Congress represent the will of the people nationally.

This bill can be corrected and pass congressional review.

Peter D. Rosenstein, Washington

Source link

Leave a Comment