King County Prosecutor Satterberg seeks tougher sentences for juveniles with illegal guns

King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg announced Wednesday a renewed effort aimed at increasing sentence ranges for juveniles who illegally possess firearms.

Juvenile gun crimes have increased dramatically across the state and the proposal has gained the support of gun rights advocates and Washington Ceasefire. In a news conference Wednesday, Satterberg was joined by gun rights advocate Dave Workman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms and Ralph Fascitelli of Washington Ceasefire, who support reforming juvenile gun laws.

State Sen. Adam Kline and State Rep. Chris Hurst also expressed their support at the news conference, as did Seattle City Attorney Peter Holmes.

Satterberg said he will take this measure to the Washington State Legislators and ask them to introduce a bill in the 2013 legislative session.

It currently takes five convictions of unlawful possession of a firearm second degree before a juvenile is sent to the Department of Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration (JRA), where the youth will serve a sentence of 15 weeks. The proposal by Satterberg would call for a mandatory 10-day sentence upon the first conviction, and a 15-week sentence upon the second conviction.

“On most issues you would not find common ground between Washington Ceasefire and the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, but they join together with prosecutors on this issue,” Satterberg said. “Our state law regarding illegal gun possession by juveniles is ridiculously lenient, and serves neither the youth nor public safety,” he added.

Under current law a juvenile must be convicted of five felonies before a conviction for Unlawful Possession of a Firearm in the Second Degree (UPFA 2) results in a sentence at the Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration (JRA) of 15 to 36 weeks.

Current law calls for a mandatory 10-day sentence for the first four convictions for UPFA 2nd Degree. Numerous sentencing alternatives exist however, that can make the mandatory 10-day sentence meaningless. Current Washington state law sends a strong message to juveniles that carrying a gun is no big deal, Satterberg said.

Under the proposed changes, juveniles convicted of illegal gun possession will have to serve a mandatory 10-day sentence on their first conviction.  Juveniles who have already been convicted of a felony or who are convicted a second time of illegal gun possession will be sent to JRA to serve a sentence of 15 to 36 weeks. The proposal would eliminate sentencing alternatives that permit juveniles to escape serving the mandatory 10-day sentence called for under current law on their first illegal gun possession conviction.

Satterberg believes that while at JRA, a gun violence education curriculum should be developed for juvenile offenders serving sentences for illegal gun possession that offers a realistic lesson on the medical and legal consequences of carrying and using firearms.

In King County armed juvenile crime that results in "automatic adult prosecution" of a juvenile has more than doubled in recent years, from just 19 cases in 2008 to 66 in 2009, 54 in 2010 and 41 in 2011. This year is on a similar pace. Approximately 65 percent of these “auto adult” cases involve the use of a firearm.

Most of the crimes resulting in this dramatic increase in juvenile violence are gun-related, either resulting in death, serious bodily injury or the extreme risk of a drive-by shooting. These crimes of violence result in 20 to 30 year adult prison sentences for juvenile offenders ages 16 and 17, and cause the victim's family incredible pain and suffering.

“Under present law, we do virtually nothing to or for a young person caught with an illegal gun,” Satterberg said, “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.”

By sending the right message upon the first conviction, that carrying a gun is illegal and dangerous, prosecutors hope to deter youth from future acts of gun violence.

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