- Provides mandatory minimums for gun crimes by gang members (3 years possession, 10 years use);
- Expands current law allowing the ability obtain a court order prohibiting public nuisances;
- Recommends establishment of a "gun court" to quickly address such offenses;
- Provides for consideration of "community impact statements" during sentencing;
- Amends a District law that permits MPD to impound vehicles used in prostitution;
- Provides for criminal background checks of alcoholic beverage license applicants;
- Includes new penalties for PCP-related offenses and driving under the influence of PCP; and
- Includes various protections for crime victims and witnesses, such as a right to know the status of the case; information related to any stay-away orders, pleas, releases, probation, or other placement; and protection from adverse employment action when attending court proceedings or meeting with law enforcement.
In the District, which has about four times as much violent crime as New York City, it is not uncommon for individuals to be arrested ten, fifteen, even twenty times for serious offenses, such as gun possession, robbery, burglary, car theft, possession of drugs with intent to distribute, and, even murder, and nevertheless remain on the street.
Councilmember Mendelson, who chairs the Council's Committee on Public Safety and Judiciary, believes that the city needs closer study as to the reasons behind this "revolving door." How much of this situation stems from "no-papering" due to lack of evidence or other factors, plea bargains, court rulings, jury verdicts, or sentencing? How much accountablility lies with police officers, detectives, prosecutors, and judges? How much lies with weaknesses in the District's laws?
If the District lacks critical data as to the source of the problem, as Mendelson suggests, then such a study should be included among the bill's provisions so that the city can better target areas of the criminal justice system for future improvement. It is not a replacement or excuse, however, for delay or inaction in providing the tools included in the legislation to fight the current violence.
Overall, the bill appears to be a positive step forward. There are some legitimate questions such as how would the court determine a defendant is a "member of a criminal street gang" subject to mandatory minimums for gun offenses, how significant of an expansion of the current nuisance law is the proposal, would the new gun court require additional funding from Congress, don't courts already consider community impact statements, and why hasn't MPD used the prostitution-related impoundment law since it was amended by the Council to address constitutional issues in 2006?
Mendelson should schedule a hearing on the bill in early 2010 and give the Graham/Evans proposal full and fair consideration.