SEATTLE – On the November ballot is a measure that would change the Washington state Constitution to keep some suspects from getting out of jail on bail.
A vote on Joint Resolution 4220 comes nearly a year after Maurice Clemmons gunned down four Lakewood police officers in a coffee shop. It turns out, Clemmons had just gotten out of jail.
Among those pleading for a change in the aftermath of the killings were the family members of the fallen officers. Lawmakers listened to their emotional testimony and responded, voting to change the state Constitution.
"There are people who are tremendously dangerous individuals that, by law today, if they're not facing the death penalty, would be given bail because the judge would have to give them bail," said Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw.
Under current law, judges can deny bail in cases where a suspect could face the death penalty. Lawmakers want to expand that so judges could deny bail in cases where someone faces a possible life sentence – specifically "upon 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."
Voters must now decide whether to approve that change.
"It doesn't make sense to change our fundamental document because of one tragedy, particularly when the change you're making probably wouldn't have made any difference in the tragedy itself," said Seattle University law professor Robert Boruchowitz. He says the change is poorly written and could be misinterpreted.
"Under this amendment, if you don't have information to persuade the judge that there is a propensity for violence, the judge is going to release the person anyway," he said.
The American Civil Liberties Union says there's a principle at stake here that suspects should be presumed innocent until proven guilty.
"I am concerned that we are going too far to curtail the presumption of innocence that has stood in the state for 120 years," said Shankar Narayan with the ACLU.
"All of the protections are still there. All we're talking about is keeping people safe from a small number of truly dangerous individuals," said Hurst.
Supporters say denying bail does not change the fact that suspects are presumed innocent. Opponents say this will result in some innocent people being kept behind bars and that judges already have the ability to set high bail if they believe there's a danger to the public.
Again, this is not an initiative. This is a constitutional amendment. The Legislature has already approved it. Voters get the final say.