OLYMPIA – Today the Senate passed legislation that would require resentencing of 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 that required courts to sentence people to life in prison without the possibility of parole (LWOP) upon conviction of a third “most serious offense.” But in 2019, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 5288, which removed robbery in the second degree from the list of most serious offenses, meaning it was no longer a three-strikes offense. However, that bill did not apply to the 64 people in Washington already serving three strikes LWOP sentences for whom at least one strike conviction was for robbery in the second degree.
Senate Bill 5164, sponsored by Sen. Jeannie Darneille (D-Tacoma), would require that these individuals be resentenced to reflect that robbery in the second degree is not a three-strikes offense, giving hope to many that they may someday rejoin their families and communities following rehabilitation through Department of Corrections services.
A person commits robbery in the second degree when the person unlawfully takes 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, lowest impact, and most racially disproportionate.
The three strikes law has had a disproportionate impact on Washington’s communities of color. This is certainly true among the 64 people affected by this bill who are still serving a LWOP sentence based in whole or part on a conviction of robbery in the second degree. In this group, 46% are Black and/or African American. Further, this is an aging population with 45% over 55 years of age.
“This offense is a far cry from the violent offenses we think of when referring to the three strikes law, such as murder, rape or kidnapping – and the Legislature in 2019 agreed,” said Darneille. “It’s time to apply that same principle to the people who were left behind. The Legislature can and should reform the state’s sentencing scheme when it no longer serves the interest of justice, and that’s what we’re doing with SB 5164 and that is why the bill is supported by both the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys and the Sentencing Guidelines Commission.”
The bill now moves to the House for consideration.