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Federal Way mayor lends support to bill toughening felony elude sentencing

Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell testifies in Olympia on Tuesday in support of a measure that will strengthen the state
Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell testifies in Olympia on Tuesday in support of a measure that will strengthen the state's current law regarding felony eluding.
— image credit: Chris Carrel, City of Federal Way

Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell was in Olympia on Tuesday, lending his voice to House Bill 2549, which will strengthen the state’s current law regarding felony eluding.

As it stands right now, when a driver engaged in a police chase endangers other people, the law says they must serve a 12 month plus one day sentence for the felony eluding. But, in an odd tweak, that additional punishment is typically served concurrently, and not consecutively, leading to what Ferrell termed a “perverse incentive” for experienced auto thieves to run from police that puts “police officers and innocent bystanders at risk.”

“Too many times, when an auto thief is faced with an arrest and makes a decision to try to escape officers, initiating a car chase, the crime of auto theft becomes transformed into a very serious and potentially life-threatening situation,” Ferrell said in his testimony before the House Public Safety Committee in Olympia. “In Federal Way, over four years (from 2009-2012) we see about 12 pursuits a year. About half are initiated by stolen vehicle. Over (those same) four years, we’ve had nine pursuits that resulted in a collision.”

Ferrell added that 35 percent of pursuits end up being dangerous enough that officers are forced to terminate the pursuit, and that in 2013 there were 218 pursuits in King County (excluding Seattle, Enumclaw and Snoqaulmie).

“What I saw as a prosecuting attorney, however, is that although the law provides for additional jail time for felony elude, that 12-month jail time ‘enhancement’ is not required to be served at the end of the sentence and often isn’t,” the mayor added. “(HB 2549) would bring the felony elude enhancement in line with other enhancements. It would send a strong signal, the right signal, to auto thieves and others that if they attempt to flee police in a vehicle, and put another person’s life in danger, they will face the consequences.”

Federal Way 30th District Rep. Roger Freeman (D), who introduced HB 2549, and Rep. Linda Kochmar (R), also testify on the need for this bill. Both said their time on the Federal Way City Council led them to believe the law needed to be strengthened.

“As a defense attorney, I represented many people who eluded police officers, and I didn’t realize that this enhancement that can be tacked onto the offense was not running consecutive,” Freeman said. “What you’re looking at is eluding plus 12 not equalling more than (other offenses). So the defendant doesn’t really feel the impact of the enhancement … I think this is really a public safety bill  because we don’t want defendants getting the idea that if they elude and have the enhancement, that there’s no sting to it.”

“We did a study on those individuals who steal autos on a regular basis and there’s a small percentage of recurrent offenders, and they know the law,” Kochmar said. “They know that they can try and elude the police and they won’t have any particular additional sentence because a lot of the time, the sentence is concurrent, as Rep. Freeman said. So what we want do to is help our citizens, and the citizens of the state, by tacking on a mandatory 12 month plus one day sentence at the end of their sentencing guidelines so they actually do hard time.”

Freeman noted that HB 2549 would make the sentencing guideline “12 months plus one day,” which means that the State Department of Corrections (DOC) would be required to deal with defendants sentenced under the revised enhancement.

Committee chair Adam Goodman (D, 45th District) asked why this particular enhancement was originally framed the way it was and committee member Charles Ross (R, 14th District) indicated there was some wrangling over the issue regarding the 12 months plus one day and the impact it would have on DOC.

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Federal Way 30th District Rep. Roger Freeman (D) prepares to testify on the need for House Bill 2549, which will strengthen the state's current law regarding felony eluding. Freeman introduced the measure.

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