For the last four years, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg has pushed for legislative action to address a glaring hole in our juvenile justice system. House Bill 2164 requires that a juvenile who is found with an illegal gun on the first offense be ordered by the Court to participate in an evidence-based intervention program in order to address the root causes of the juvenile’s illegal gun possession.
Groundbreaking Legislation Passed to Intervene
with Juveniles Caught Carrying Firearms
For the last four years, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg has pushed for legislative action to address a glaring hole in our juvenile justice system. While you would expect that a juvenile convicted of carrying an illegal firearm would be viewed as an extremely serious matter, the law does not mandate any specific intervention or consequence. Under current law, a juvenile would have to be convicted of illegal possession five times before being removed from the community for a 15-week sentence at JRA. The first four convictions receive the same sentence, “local sanctions,” which can also include a deferred sentence with no meaningful intervention.
Thanks to the leadership of State Representative Tina Orwall (33rd Legislative District), and the Senate floor management of Senator Joe Fain (47th Legislative District), state law is about to change.
House Bill 2164 requires that a juvenile who is found with an illegal gun on the first offense be ordered by the Court to participate in an evidence-based intervention program in order to address the root causes of the juvenile’s illegal gun possession. The legislation is the result of a workgroup assembled by Rep. Orwall, along with Prosecutor Satterberg, last year, after a bill in the previous legislative session failed to move forward. Compromise was reached between those calling for more aggressive sentencing consequences and those who wanted community-based social services.
For more on the bill please go here.
“Under present law, young offenders get the very strong message that carrying an illegal gun is no big deal.” Satterberg noted, “but when they actually use that gun in a crime, we put them in adult court and come down on them like a ton of bricks. This new approach will require that the youth, and his family, participate in an intense intervention to find out why he felt the need to carry a gun, and to warn him of the real consequences of gun violence,” Satterberg added.
Until now, the lack of response by the juvenile justice system has led to violent and sometimes deadly consequences.
Under the state’s automatic adult jurisdiction law, juveniles age 16 and 17 can find themselves being tried in adult Superior Court when charged with certain violent crimes. Approximately 65 percent of these “auto adult” cases involve the use of a firearm. Most of these gun related crimes result in either death, serious bodily injury or the extreme risk of a drive-by shooting. These crimes of violence can also result in death, serious permanent injury and trauma for victims, and a 20 or 30-year adult prison sentences for the young offenders.
In King County, the number of armed juvenile crime that results in "automatic adult prosecution" has ranged widely:
2008 19 cases
2009 66 cases
2010 54 cases
2011 41 cases
2012 38 cases
Two Cases Highlight the Issue of Juveniles and Guns
Two extremely high profile gun-related homicides will once again highlight the importance of the issue, one new case and one old. On March 17, Byron White, 17, will be arraigned on charges of Murder First Degree, Attempted Robbery Second Degree and Unlawful Possession of a Firearm Second Degree for the February 23rd fatal shooting of 54-year-old David Peterson.
White is charged with unlawfully possessing a gun because he is 17-years-old. Although he had no prior criminal history, White’s possession and then use of a handgun in a split second shows the tragic consequences of leaving the issue of juveniles carrying firearms unaddressed.
For more information click here
On March 21st, King County Prosecutors will seek to re-sentence Brian Ronquillo for the 1994 murder of 16-year-old Missy Fernandez at Ballard High School in Seattle.
Ronquillo was also 16 at the time when he fired a gun five to six times from a moving car at several students standing outside of the school, hitting Missy in the head, and killing her. Missy’s murder was the first ever of a student on Seattle School District grounds.
Ronquillo also hit a second student and was convicted of multiple charges. He received a 52-year prison sentence. Ronquillo is scheduled to be resentenced based upon a minor sentencing issue recently decided by the Court of Appeals.
For more information on the case go here
Both cases illustrate the deadly combination of juvenile hubris and guns. With the enactment of HB 2164 we hope that our laws begin to reflect the seriousness of the crime. There is nothing good that comes from juveniles illegally carrying guns in King County. Early intervention just might help us avoid future tragedies for our community.