OLYMPIA – Today Gov. Jay Inslee signed legislation requiring resentencing for individuals sentenced to life without parole due to a conviction for robbery in the second degree.
In 1993, Washington became the first state to adopt a three-strikes law requiring sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole (LWOP) upon conviction of a third “most serious offense.” But robbery in the second degree was removed from the list of most serious offenses after the Legislature passed Senate Bill 5288 in 2019, rendering it no longer a three-strikes offense. As passed, however, that bill did not apply to people in already serving three strikes LWOP sentences who have at least one strike conviction for robbery in the second degree. When SB 5288 passed in 2019, staff at the Department of Corrections found that 64 would be affected. A more accurate assessment conducted this year identified 114 potentially affected people remained in prison after the passage of SB 5288. Since passage of that bill, 9 have sought and received clemency and release from prison.
Senate Bill 5164, sponsored by Sen. Jeannie Darneille (D-Tacoma), requires courts to resentence these individuals now that robbery in the second degree is no longer a three-strikes offense, giving hope they may someday rejoin their families and return to their communities after receiving rehabilitation services through the Department of Corrections.
Robbery in the second degree is the unlawful taking of personal property from another by the use or threatened use of force in circumstances where no deadly weapon, bodily injury or financial institution is involved. Out of all the offenses that lead to a sentence of LWOP, this offense is the most common, has the lowest impact, and has a racially disproportionate application.
The three-strikes law has had a disproportionate impact on Washington’s communities of color. This is especially true among the people affected by this bill who continued serving an LWOP sentence based in whole or part on a conviction of robbery in the second degree. Of this group, nearly half are Black and/or African American. Further, this is an aging population with almost half over 55 years of age.
“When we think of the three-strikes law which is meant to keep dangerous persons in prison for life, we think about offenses like murder, rape or kidnapping. Robbery in the second degree is a far cry from those types of offenses – and the Legislature in 2019 agreed,” said Darneille. “With the Governor’s signing of SB 5164 today, we will apply that same principle to the people who were left behind. The Legislature can and has reformed the state’s sentencing law regarding three strikes because it no longer serves the interest of justice, and SB 5164 fully rights that decision.”
The bill is supported by:
- ACLU of WA
- Black Prisoners Caucus
- Columbia Legal Services
- Faith Action Network
- Families of the Incarcerated WA
- Freedom Project
- Gente Unida
- MAPS – American Muslim Empowerment Network
- New Beginnings
- Restorative CommUnity Coalition
- Seattle Clemency Project
- Statewide Poverty Action Network
- United Black Christian Clergy
- WA Association of Prosecuting Attorneys
- WA Coalition for Prison Reform
- WA Sentencing Guidelines Commission
The new law takes effect 90 days after the 2021 legislative session ended on April 25.