OLYMPIA, Wash. — Citing a courthouse shooting in Delaware Monday as cause for action, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson testified Tuesday in favor of legislation that would toughen laws on those who commit acts of violence at courthouses in the state.
Crimes committed against court employees as well as law enforcement officers and prison guards are already considered felonies under previous changes to the law made by the Legislature. House Bill 1653 would apply felony status to assaults committed against anyone in or around a courthouse or court-related facility.
Under the current statute, such offenses would be considered fourth-degree assault, a gross misdemeanor, and the location may not be considered aggravating circumstances by a jury mulling an enhanced sentence. The bill would allow for charges of felony third-degree assault and for juries to consider such acts as aggravating circumstances.
“It is important that we do everything we can to ensure that everyone who walks into a Washington courthouse knows they will be safe and protected, regardless of whether they work there,” Ferguson said in prepared remarks to the House Public Safety Committee.
A third-degree assault charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, a maximum fine of $10,000, or both imprisonment and a fine.
The bill, which has a companion bill in the Senate (SB 5484), would protect anyone in or around a courthouse building, including prisoners.
“This bill makes it clear that violence in our courthouses will not be tolerated,” Ferguson said.
More-serious cases could still be prosecuted under statutes for first- or second-degree assault.
Three people were killed at the New Castle County Courthouse in Wilmington, Del., Monday in a shooting that authorities said stemmed from a years-long custody dispute, according to The Associated Press. The shooter was later determined to be the ex-father-in-law of one of the victims.