The Washington State Senate today approved a bipartisan measure proposed by Attorney General Bob Ferguson to extend current courthouse protections to all residents accessing the courts.
“On behalf of the thousands of jurors, crime victims, defendants and family members who access our courts across Washington state, I’d like to thank the Senators who voted to grant them equal protection from violence,” Ferguson said.
Senate Floor Leader and sponsor of the measure, Joe Fain, R-Auburn, was instrumental in moving this legislation forward, Ferguson said. Earlier this year, a man assaulted a plainclothes detective in at the 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.”
“Whether you’re a police detective, a witness or a juror, you deserve to be safe in our state’s courthouses,” said Fain, whose 47th District includes Kent. “This is a common sense measure designed to prevent violence and preserve access to justice.”
Ferguson also recognized the measure’s prime sponsor, Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, for sponsoring the bill and helping it move forward.
“Courthouses by their very nature attract controversy—and angry, disgruntled and desperate people often resort to violence when faced with this controversy,” Kline said. “People should feel safe when they enter the halls of justice—and not just because they are a judge or a court worker.”
Senate Bill 5484 extends protections currently granted to some courthouse, legal and law enforcement personnel 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 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 Kline, David Frockt (D-Seattle), Kevin Ranker (D-Orcas Island), Christine Rolfes, D- Bainbridge Island, Mike Padden (R-Spokane Valley), Fain and Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Belltown).
It has garnered wide support from law enforcement, prosecutors and victims’ advocates.
The bill passed the Senate 40-9 and now heads to the House of Representatives, where a companion measure was introduced with similar bipartisan support.