On November 29, 2009 Maurice Clemmons gunned down four Lakewood police officers in cold blood while they sat together in a Tacoma coffee shop.
Only six days earlier Clemmons was released from prison after paying only $3,000 cash for a $190,000 bail bond. Clemmons had been arrested on charges of child rape that would equate to a “third strike” offense and potentially lead to life in prison. He was released because judges in Washington State are required by the state constitution to provide bail.
The tragic incident in Lakewood exposed gaping holes in Washington state’s criminal justice and bail system – one of which Washington voters can remedy by passing the “Remember Lakewood” constitutional amendment referendum on the November 2010 General Election ballot.
The Lakewood Law Enforcement Memorial Act (ESHJR 4220), sponsored by Representative Hope, R-Lake Stevens, was passed by the state legislature in March almost unanimously.
If ratified by voters in November, the state constitution would be altered to allow bail to be “denied for offenses punishable by the possibility of life in prison 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.”
When individuals who fit this profile are released on bail, law enforcement is the remaining line of defense between people like Maurice Clemmons and the public. If a judge had the legal opportunity to keep Clemmons behind bars until trial, those Lakewood officers may have been spared from making the ultimate sacrifice that comes with the uniform.
Without this reform, no judge in the state can legally deny a man like Clemmons’ temporary freedom from prison.
According to Representative Hope, “there is no doubt in my mind that those officers would be alive today if this change had been in place.”
Opponents will argue this amendment would infringe upon detainee rights, but that is not legally accurate.
The amendment would not require the denial of bail, but allow judges to deny the release of the most potentially violent and dangerous individuals who come before the court, those whose charges are punishable by life in prison. This common sense reform would have allowed a judge to review Clemmons’ record and status in the justice system and use discretion to keep him behind bars until his days in court.
In short, this change could have prevented the automatic freedom Clemmons’ enjoyed upon bail in which he used to murder the Lakewood officers.
The reform would not be groundbreaking or unique to criminal justice in the U.S.
Already, at the federal level individuals charged with crimes such as drugs and weapons charges can be denied bail by federal judges who have the discretion to deny requests for bail on the grounds of flight risk and danger to the public or specific persons.
It is only prudent that law enforcement and the public is allowed that same protection from criminals who break serious state laws.
“As a former federal prosecutor, I’ve worked in a system that allows judges to deny bail to potentially dangerous individuals,” said Remember Lakewood Executive Director and King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn.
HJR 4220 was put together with many stakeholders and was done with great precision. This precision ensures that peoples civil rights are protected and will not change their presumption of innocence.
I wholeheartedly support this reform. In the case of Clemmons, as in others, it can be argued that multiple mistakes and deficiencies in the system allowed Clemmons the undue freedom to kill innocent people.
That may be true, but the ability for judicial review and discretion to deny bail to individuals like Clemmons could be a “backstop” prosecutors and judges can use to prevent highly dangerous suspects the opportunity to threaten public safety.
Passage of this referendum is the tool needed to prevent similar tragedies in the future and I urge voters to approve it on the General Election ballot.
If you would like more information about the referendum, please visit www.rememberlakewood.com