WASHINGTON - The D.C. Council will hold the first of two votes Tuesday on the city's newest crime bill. The Secure DC Omnibus Amendment Act of 2024 was introduced by Public Safety Committee Chair Councilmember Brook Pinto last year. The bill is a collection of different laws proposed to address what Mayor Muriel Bowser has repeatedly referred to as gaps in the system.
The bill would eliminate or extend the length of statutes of limitations for certain serious crimes, according to the Council’s website. It would make misdemeanor arrest warrants extraditable, and also clarify that GPS records in the possession of the Pretrial Services Agency can be admissible to prove a defendant’s guilt in a criminal case or other judicial proceeding.
It would also enhance protections for seniors and children and also increase protections for victims of sexual and domestic violence.
Specifically, the Secure DC Omnibus Amendment Act of 2024 would do the following:
Ensure accountability for offenders:
- Eliminate or extend the length of statutes of limitations for certain serious crimes, such as attempts to commit murder or sexual abuse, along with crimes that are committed in the same incident as one of those crimes. These changes would help to improve accountability, particularly in cases where a victim comes forward years after the crime was committed (as often happens in sexual assault cases).
- Make misdemeanor arrest warrants extraditable outside the District where a court finds good cause. This is particularly important given how the District’s small size and proximity to Maryland and Virginia.
- Clarify that GPS records in the possession of the Pretrial Services Agency (PSA) can be admissible to prove a defendant’s guilt in a criminal case or other judicial proceeding. Current law is unclear on this issue, and while the USAO consistently maintains that the law allows these records to be admitted as evidence of guilt, some defendants have attempted to construe the statutes to the contrary. This is a common-sense measure that would make clear that GPS records from PSA that, for example, indicate that a defendant was on the scene of a domestic violence incident or a homicide, can be admissible in that defendant’s trial for domestic violence or murder.
Enhance protections for senior citizens:
- Add "assault with significant bodily injury" to a list of offenses that qualify for sentencing enhancements when committed against senior citizens. This would rectify an apparent oversight in existing law and ensure that seniors receive the protections they deserve.
Protect victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence:
- Prohibit individuals who have been convicted of stalking from possessing a firearm. According to Everytown for Gun Safety, in nearly 9 out of 10 cases of attempted murders of women, there had been at least one stalking incident in the year prior to the attempted murder.
- Create a standalone felony offense of strangulation. Strangulation is a key predictor of future domestic violence turning deadly; creating a standalone offense would make it easier to hold individuals who engage in this conduct accountable and prevent the worst outcomes. This change would also bring the District in line with the 49 other states that allow strangulation to be prosecuted as a felony.
- Allow for testing of defendants charged with sexual assault for HIV in order to provide victims with information about their attacker’s HIV status more quickly. This would allow victims to make informed decisions about their health care. In cases where the defendant is HIV-negative, it would allow victims to avoid weeks of post-exposure medication, which can cause severe side effects. Testing of this kind currently may only occur after conviction, which will always be too late to allow victims to make informed decisions about their health care.
- Create new evidentiary rules to give courts discretion to admit evidence of previous similar crimes in sexual abuse and child sexual abuse cases. Similar evidentiary rules in California helped bring Harvey Weinstein to justice following decades of sexual abuse allegations.
- Establish progressive sentencing for serial misdemeanor sex offenders. Right now, individuals who repeatedly engage in misdemeanor sexual abuse are generally only subject to a maximum of 180 days’ imprisonment, no matter how many times they re-offend. This change would increase the maximum sentence to 3 years for individuals with one or more prior convictions for misdemeanor sexual abuse within the past 10 years. It would also allow these individuals to be detained pretrial, offering greater security and peace to victims and community members.
- Close a loophole in the prohibition on non-consensual dissemination of sexual images. As it stands, the law requires prosecutors to prove that there was an "agreement or understanding" that the sexual image would not be disclosed. Because it is difficult to prove that such an agreement existed, this language has hampered prosecution of these cases. This proposal would put the focus instead on the defendant’s mental state and the lack of consent in the distribution of the image.
Improve protections for children:
- Direct courts to expedite cases involving a child victim. Currently, the law only expedites cases where a child is called to give testimony; this would expand that to cases where a child is a victim, even where the child doesn’t testify. It would also allow courts to expedite sentencing hearings. These changes would help to minimize the length of time child victims are exposed to the criminal justice process.
- Create enhanced penalties for domestic violence crimes committed in the presence of a child. This change recognizes the well-documented and significant harm that witnessing violence has on children.
- Create additional protections for 12-year-old victims of sexual abuse. Under current law, individuals found guilty of a sex offense are subject to increased penalties if the victim is under 12 years old. This change recognizes the youthful nature of 12-year-olds and extends those protections to them. The change would also improve consistency with other statutes that draw a line between 12- and 13-year-olds.
- Extend liability for certain sexual offenses to contractors of organizations. Currently, the law applies to both employees and volunteers, but not contractors; there is no obvious reason to exclude contractors from liability.
"We know that driving down crime requires us to send a clear message that if you make our city less safe, if you bring violence to our community, you will be held accountable. I appreciate Councilmember Pinto’s leadership and partnership on this legislation that includes most of our Safer, Stronger 2.0 legislation and our ACT Now legislation," said Bowser in a statement earlier this year. "Passing it will support a system that prioritizes safety and accountability. In 2023, we saw pieces of this legislation move our city in the right direction. Now we can make those provisions permanent and focus on strategies and policies that will continue to make our city safer. I look forward to signing this bill into law and urge the Council to move with urgency to unanimously pass this legislation."