The Washington State Supreme Court is set to make a sweeping change to how it handles juvenile criminal records. Their move endangers the lives of every Washingtonian, gives a pass to dangerous juvenile criminals, and it stifles a free press, all in the name of equity.
On Tuesday, May 3, without any meaningful debate or discussion, the Supreme Court will stop using the full names of juvenile criminals and suspects, instead relying on initials and date of birth. The implications of this change are sweeping.
This means, in part, that juvenile records will not be properly filed with law enforcement, summons will not be delivered to juveniles, the state will be out of compliance with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, and future juveniles with the same birthdate and initials will have to prove they’re not the criminal juvenile. As worrisome, the media will not be able to cover important public safety stories or hold judges accountable for their mishandling of cases.
This rule change is part of the Court’s commitment to a contrived equity movement that treats criminals better than their victims. And all of Washington loses if this radical change goes into effect.
Rule change intentionally kept quiet?
Activists with the Office of Public Defense and the Minority & Justice Commission complain that juvenile criminals, who are “disproportionately” black, are unfairly impacted for life when they enter the criminal justice system. Their goal is to protect juvenile criminals from repercussions purely because of the criminal’s skin color.
Instead of even offering meaningful debate, the Supreme Court only opened the proposed rule change up for public comment. Virtually no one in the public, or the media, knew about this or participated.
Nevertheless, Chief Justice Steven González was joined by justices Charles Johnson, Debra Stephens, Susan Owens, Sheryl Gordon McCloud, Mary Yu, G. Helen Whitener, and Barbara Madsen adopted the rule on March 31.
Why was there no public debate? The Supreme Court likely didn’t want to deal with any public pushback. But those working in the criminal justice system are sounding alarms about the implications.
This move is equitably dangerous
A coalition of ten statewide agencies, associations, and industry groups sent letters to the Supreme Court imploring them to pause implementation of this new rule. The groups include Superior Court Judges’ Association, WA Assn of Prosecuting Attorneys, Washington State Patrol, and WA State Association of Broadcasters.
Among their many concerns:
RCW 10.97.045 requires every court or criminal justice agency to furnish disposition data to the Washington State Patrol (WSP) and the law enforcement agency initiating the criminal history record for that charge. Courts are required to retain any record upon which disposition data is based. GR 31 amendments create confusion as to whether courts will have a record of any juvenile offender’s full name to report to law enforcement or maintain for its disposition data.
RCW 13.40.100 outlines a process to serve a summons on a juvenile. A summons without a name, as well as a pick-up order without a name, is useless.
Sex offender registration, revocation and restoration of firearm rights, driver’s license revocation, warrants, restitution orders, and orders of protection all are implicated by a proscription on the use of an individual’s full name in the case record.
Without names of alleged offenders identified in the charging documents, the records become a generic, unidentifiable pile of cases not associated with any person. This may work to the juvenile’s detriment if, for example, fictitious Derek Thompson (DT), DOB 3/1/2006, is adjudicated for armed robbery. In 2023, fictitious David Tanner (DT), DOB 3/1/2006, is rejected by the military due to his conviction for armed robbery. David Tanner is without recourse to prove he is not that “DT”.
This rule change also makes it nearly impossible for media outlets to effectively cover juvenile crime.
This rule stifles a free press
For the press to operate freely, it must be able to decide what crimes are worthy of public attention. And if the system — or a judge — fails to keep the public safe or treat a suspect fairly, the public has the right to know.
But the media would not be able to do its job under this rule change.
How are we supposed to track the progress of juveniles accused of serious crimes once they’re out of jail? If they re-offend, how are we to investigate if all we have are initials and birthdates? We’d be forced to rely on leaks of their identities. We might even have to guess.
If we can’t identify a criminal, then we’ll also have a harder time identifying judges who go easy on them, especially if they re-offend.
When a dangerous juvenile gets a light sentence, or is pushed into restorative justice programs that don’t work, the public won’t know because the media won’t cover it. This poses a significant public safety risk.
This isn’t about equity, it’s about reimaging the courts
Progressive partisans pretend they’re trying to create equitable systems. But they’re merely dismantling the ones we have and rebuilding them through their ideological lens. The Supreme Court is attempting to do that with this new rule change. It’s transparently obvious.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court is supposed to discuss the letters registering complaints over the rule change. But the rule goes into effect before the meeting. If the change goes into effect as intended, the consequences cannot be understated. Prosecutors say they will be effectively forced into not moving on new juvenile cases and pleadings.
This is a public safety emergency. And the Supreme Court must reverse course before it’s too late.
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