Mayor Bowser vetoes controversial new criminal code

Mayor Muriel Bowser has vetoed a massive overhaul of the District's criminal code, according to a letter sent to the D.C. Council on Wednesday.

In the letter to D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, the mayor said she is "vetoing Bill 24-450, the ‘Revised Criminal Code Act of 2022’" because she believes the "bill does not make us safer."

The City Council approved the bill aiming to overhaul the criminal code back in November

READ MORE: Keeping DC safe among Mayor Bowser’s top priorities as she begins 3rd term

The mayor announced her plans to veto the bill during her first press conference for her third term on Tuesday.

"None of us can be satisfied with young people using weapons and killing each other," Bowser said during the press conference. "We’re also very concerned that the courts [won't] have the resources to keep up with the law… What this law would suggest is that the number of trials would skyrocket. So, we have concerns about all that."

While there was consensus on much of the 450-page bill, provisions to reduce maximum sentences, the elimination of nearly all mandatory minimum sentences, and expansion of the right to jury trials by those accused of misdemeanors sparked concern.

Bowser previously said it sends the wrong message to reduce penalties, especially when young people are using weapons and killing each other. 

D.C. Police Chief Robert J. Contee III also opposed the bill's reduction of many sentences.

"If we’re reducing a sentence from ten years down to five years, that makes the city less safe," Contee said in October.

READ MORE: DC Mayor Muriel Bowser promises new jobs, safer streets during third term in office

In her letter to the council, the mayor suggested that the D.C. Council "amend this bill to remove provisions for which there remains deep divisions within the criminal justice community. The Council should then proceed with passing a bill that reflects the provisions for which there is consensus agreement. These provisions, which represent approximately 95% of the bill, would still represent a significant and much-needed update to our criminal code."

The letter adds that Mayor Bowser "supports modernizing and standardizing the District’s criminal code," but given the pushback the bill has received from the criminal justice community, she is urging "the Council to take more time to consider it, a sentiment I have heard echoed in the community. We need to pause for greater reflection on the bill and its consequences – adding input from our residents, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners, businesses, and judicial system – we need to consider the grave concerns of one third of the partners within public safety."

While the latest version of the bill took into account some objections raised by public safety officials, it did not totally diminish everyone's fears.

The veto comes after Mayor Bowser was sworn into office for a third term on Monday. Bowser previously told FOX 5 that reducing violence and keeping D.C. safe are a top priority for her new term.

The D.C. Council can still override the mayor's veto with a two-thirds vote. The council has 30 days to vote on the override.