Longer sentences for habitual property offenders approved by Senate committee

OLYMPIA – A bill allowing longer sentences for habitual property offenders cleared the Senate Law and Justice Committee Thursday, giving prosecutors tools to crack down on rising burglaries, thefts and similar crimes.

Senate Bill 5703, sponsored by committee chair Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, allows sentences to be extended by up to two years.

“This is one of the biggest concerns for the Spokane area, which has become a national hotspot for property crime,” Padden said. “But it is just as much a concern for the entire state. These crimes traditionally have not received the emphasis we give to violent offenses. Law enforcement agencies and prosecutors need additional tools if they are to combat property crime effectively.”

Washington already has some of the longest sentences in the nation for crimes against property, but the sentencing-guideline grid used by judges has a weakness. Once an offender achieves a top score of nine points, based on criminal history and seriousness of crimes, the sentencing range maxes out. Law enforcement officials told the committee that habitual criminals at the top of the range often recognize there will be no additional penalty for further crimes, and use it as an excuse for a spree.

Under the bill, when a court determines that a criminal is a habitual property offender, 24 months can be added to a sentence for a Class B felony, which normally carries a maximum sentence of 10 years. Twelve months can be added to the sentence for a Class C felony, which normally carries a maximum sentence of five years.

Statistics compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation indicate that Washington ranked third among states nationally in 2015 in reported property crimes per capita, behind Hawaii and New Mexico, at 3,463.8 for every 100,000 in population. The Spokane metropolitan area ranked 6th in the nation for auto theft in 2014, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, though the ranking for 2015 fell to 25th .

Lawmakers last year made a special appropriation of $300,000 for Spokane-area law enforcement agencies to deal with the rising number of property crimes in the area. The money has been allocated to agencies in Spokane County and the cities of Spokane and Spokane Valley for pilot projects.