WASHINGTON (DC News Now) — The Revised Criminal Code Act of 2022, which would overhaul crime and punishment in the District, is now under Congressional review. If Congress does not approve this reformed criminal code, it could set the District’s criminal code back to what it was in 1901.
The legislation is going before the House Committee on Rules Monday night marking the legislation’s first step in its journey in the House. But the overarching message from local leaders is, “Stay out of matters that only pertain to the District.”
“I’m reasonably certain that no member of the House of Representatives of the United States of America has read the bill and they don’t know what’s in that bill,” DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said. “And so all we’re getting is really political rhetoric as a run-up to the 2024 election.”
DC’s Criminal Code Reform Act is now left in the hands of Congress after being approved by Council in December.
This comes after the council overrode Mayor Muriel Bowser’s veto, which came with multiple points of concern — including the impact of lower sentences as well as expanding the right to a jury trial.
In multiple letters, Council Chairman Mendelson and other members urged the House to uphold the act and to allow the District to create a new foundation for the criminal code.
“Instead of dealing with the situation comprehensively, not that I want, but stepping in piecemeal, that’s leaving us with a 1901 code that everybody uses probably not addressing the unfairness in our criminal justice system,” Mendelson said.
Chairman Mendelson also went on to highlight that DC’s criminal code as it stands is known as one of the worst in the country. He also noted that Congress has not given an alternative solution to the code if the revised version does not pass.
The Sentencing Project promotes equity, proportionality, and justice in sentencing. The organization is urging Congress to consider the racial equality they say the revised criminal code will bring to the District’s justice system. Sentencing Reform Council Liz Komar says the legislation is a long overdue modernization of the criminal code.
“When the racial equity impact assessment of the RCCA was conducted, they found that essentially every provision would benefit the black residents of DC, whether that’s the changes to mandatory minimums, or expanding the right to a jury trial,” Komar explained.
Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes-Norton hasn’t given up hope on the bill in the House but is focusing her efforts on support in the Senate.
“What it does show is we’re off to a flying start of House Republicans trying to overturn anything they can find out, they can find and here with a code that’s over 100 years old,” Holmes-Norton explained. “There should be no reason that it’s anybody’s business or that anybody would want to keep us from updating the code.”
The revised criminal code act is likely going to a floor vote in the House later this week and then will be sent to the Senate.