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Would Constitutional Amendment Have Prevented Clemmons’ Killing Spree?

Proponents of a constitutional amendment limiting access to bail argue that it would prevent future tragedies like the Maurice Clemmons killing spree that left four Lakewood police officers dead in November 2009.

This constitutional amendment would authorize Washington courts to deny bail for offenses punishable by the possibility of life in prison, where there is a showing by clear and convincing evidence of a propensity for violence that creates a substantial likelihood of danger to the community or any persons.

Had Washington judges had this authority in 2009, would they have kept Clemmons in jail, saving four lives?

What if games are interesting intellectual exercises that are rarely capable of predicting how past events might have transpired. In the case of Clemmons, there are multiple issues at play: Clemmons moved to Washington while on parole in Arkansas; Pierce County judges did not set bail as high as prosecutors asked when he was released in November; he was released in May without the intervention of a judge, a practice called “booking bail.”

Multi-State Rules Change
For example earlier this month, “corrections officials from all 50 states approved new regulations to more quickly send violent offenders back to their home states if they misbehave,” according to the Seattle Times. The Times has reported that Clemmons “slipped through loopholes” as Washington and Arkansas argued over the rules after his arrest in May 2009.

Eldon Vail, secretary of the Washington Department of Corrections, said if some of the new rules had been in place last fall they likely would have prevented Clemmons from getting out on bail after he was arrested in Washington.

The Judge Could Have Set Higher Bail
When Clemmons was released on bail in November 2009, the Pierce County prosecutor’s office asked that bail be set at $100,000 for one felony charge. However, that judge set the bail at $40,000. In the other felony charge, the prosecutor asked for $200,000 bail; the judge set bail at $150,000.If judges are unwilling to set bail at a higher rate than that requested by the prosecutor, would they be willing to deny bail all together? Moreover, neither felony charge alone would have had a life-in-prison penalty (1).

“Booking Bail”
In May 2009, Clemmons was released on bail because of a practice that allowed suspects to post bail without having to see a judge. As the Seattle Times reported in November 2009:

Pierce County devised a system that allows people to post bond without ever facing a judge, if it happens to be a holiday or a weekend… Clemmons was booked on four felony charges — two for assault, two for malicious mischief — and, by schedule, his booking bail was set at $10,000 per charge, for a total of $40,000.

In June 2010, KING-5 reported that  Clemmons “was one of more than 2,000 suspected felons released on booking bail in the past two years.” In Pierce County, judges had increased booking bail “for 31 of the most serious charges like kidnapping, manslaughter and vehicular homicide”  by a factor of five since February 2010.

Earlier this month, AP reported that during the 2010 session the legislature ended “the practice of ‘booking bail’ in which suspects could post bail without having to see a judge.”

Not Common Practice
Currently, about a quarter of the U.S., “have constitutional clauses or statutes that allow denying bail for crimes other than capital crimes,” according to AP.

Learn more about ES HJR 4200.

(1) Washington does have a three strikes law, I-593, passed by voters in 1993.

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