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New Legislation Addresses Courthouse Security

February 13, 2013

This week’s courthouse shooting in Delaware is a reminder that courthouse violence is on the rise. Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson says that he is working with lawmakers to help him extend protections to all who access our justice system.

Ferguson said. “I am joining lawmakers from both parties to request increased penalties for violence in and around our judicial buildings.”

Last March, a man stabbed and shot Sheriff’s Deputy Polly Davin at the Grays Harbor County Courthouse in Montesano before stabbing Judge Dave Edwards who came to her aid. Earlier this year, a man assaulted a plainclothes detective in a Kent Courthouse after the detective asked him to stop intimidating witnesses. The assailant claimed he did not know he was assaulting a detective. He just thought he was attacking “some guy in a suit.”

According to the Center for Judicial and Executive Security (CJES), the number of acts of courtroom violence nationwide per year have increased four-fold since the 1970s. According to their report, 50 incidences of violence occurred nationally in 2010 and 67 in 2011 for a combined two-year total higher than any previous decade.

SB 5484 and HB 1653 would extend protections passed in 2011 to all visitors to Washington courthouses. The bill:
• Increases the penalty for misdemeanor assault in and around a courthouse to a felony – regardless of the victim; and
• Makes a committing a felony in and around a courthouse – regardless of the victim – an aggravating factor for a judge to consider during sentencing.

The measure is sponsored by a bi-partisan list of legislative leaders in both the House and the Senate, and it is garnering wide support from law enforcement, prosecutors and victims’ advocates alike.

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