The law that allowed an Edgewood man to be sentenced to more than 100 years in prison for a 1997 robbery spree is getting a second look from the Legislature this year.
The state House unanimously passed legislation Thursday that would ease part of the state law known as Hard Time for Armed Crime, a 1995 initiative that requires mandatory sentence enhancements be imposed for crimes involving guns.
Under House Bill 1148, judges wouldn’t necessarily have to impose an additional 18 months to five years of prison time for every gun-related felony for which a person is convicted. Instead, judges would be given leeway to impose a lower sentence if they believe the mandatory sentence enhancements would result in prison time that is “clearly excessive.”
The legislation could help reduce sentences in cases like that of Jacob Korum, who in 2001 was convicted of 30 crimes related to five home-invasion robberies of drug dealers. While the 19-year-old Korum, who is the son of a Puyallup auto dealer, and four friends didn’t shoot or kill anyone during their 1997 spree, mandatory sentence enhancements under Hard Time for Armed Crime resulted in a sentence for Korum of 100 years and eight months.
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Korum got his sentence reduced to 17 1/2 years when an appeals court decided to throw out several kidnapping charges against him, and the state Supreme Court upheld that ruling. A state appeals court further reduced his sentence in 2007.
Even so, Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said he thinks the initial 100-year sentence was excessive, and he supports changing the law that caused it to happen.
Had HB 1148 been law in 2001, the judge in the Korum case could have issued a sentence that was roughly one-third or one-half as lengthy, even with the number of charges Korum was facing, Lindquist estimated.
“Prosecutors want to recommend a sentence where the punishment fits the crime,” Lindquist said. “Over 100 years is an excessive sentence for a robbery when no one was killed.”
“We have murder cases where people serve considerably less,” he added.
But there is a limit to how much a person’s sentence could be reduced under the proposal. Judges still would be required to apply the mandatory sentence enhancement for each victim of a crime involving a gun, meaning someone who commits a string of five armed robberies targeting five victims would still be subject to five mandatory sentence enhancements.
In Korum’s case, much of the added time he received for gun use stemmed from multiple crimes committed against the same victims, Lindquist said.
Often, offenders can get additional firearms enhancements stacked against them when they’re charged with aiding others who are committing armed robberies, Lindquist said.
“What’s been happening is the offenders are being sentenced based on how many other perpetrators there were, not how many victims there are,” said Rep. Roger Goodman, a Democrat from Kirkland who sponsored HB 1148.
“The flaw in the initiative back in 1995 is it did not provide a safety valve for prosecutors and courts to make the sentence proportional,” Goodman said.
Goodman’s bill would allow judges more discretion in how they apply sentence enhancements, but it would not allow them to impose a sentence less than the statutory minimum for a person’s most serious offense.
The legislation aims to implement several recommendations of the Washington State Sentencing Guidelines Commission.
Because the proposed law still would require judges to apply at least one sentence enhancement for every victim of a crime, it probably wouldn’t have substantially changed the outcome for two Pierce County teenagers who committed a string of armed robberies on Halloween in 2012.
In that case, Treson Roberts and Zyion Houston-Sconiers received sentences of 26 and 31 years in prison, respectively, for stealing candy, a Halloween mask and some cellphones — though no one was hurt in the process. Roberts was 16 and Houston-Sconiers was 17 at the time of the robberies, in which they used a .22 caliber handgun to hold up two groups of trick-or-treaters and three adult victims.
Goodman said he would like to address cases similar to that of the Halloween robbers by limiting when juveniles must be transferred to and sentenced in adult court. Under current state law, juveniles who are 16 or 17 when they commit a serious violent offense or a violent crime with a gun must be tried as adults.
“The transfer to adult court for juveniles has been very counterproductive,” Goodman said.
Legislation that would have removed the requirement that certain older juveniles be tried as adults might be dead in the Legislature, though.
Senate Bill 5652, which would implement recommendations of the Joint Legislative Task Force on Juvenile Sentencing Reform, had not been scheduled for a vote before Friday’s deadline for bills to advance out of committee.