Graham proposes legislation to provide legal counsel to violent crime victims

'We need to come up with a viable solution so victims of violent crime have access to justice,' says Graham

Legislation introduced in the state House of Representatives today would require the courts to provide legal counsel to victims of violent crime and other felony offenses.

Rep. Jenny Graham, R-Spokane, sponsored the measure. She says it's time to bring balance back into the judicial system by recognizing that victims of crime have rights and needs that continue to be ignored.

“Victims of violent crime have just as much of a right – and need – for legal counsel as criminals do,” said Graham, who serves on the House Public Safety Committee and is the assistant ranking member on the House Civil Rights and Judiciary Committee.

“For too long, victims of crime have had to struggle to have their voices heard and their cases adjudicated at tremendous expense to themselves while the criminals are afforded publicly-funded legal assistance,” said Graham. “We absolutely need to bring balance back into this equation. If a violent crime victim can't afford legal counsel then the public has just as much – if not more – of a moral obligation to lend assistance.”

House Bill 1573 would require the courts to provide legal counsel to any victim of a felony offense if the victim is unable to afford counsel, if the expense of counsel would result in a substantial financial hardship, or the victim does not have practical access to funds to pay for legal counsel.

Graham, whose sister was a victim of the Green River Killer, said she has been thinking of proposing this legislation for several months. The final straw, she said, was the general dismissive attitude in the Legislature this year towards violent crime victims and the continued preferential treatment of criminals.

“I'm just shocked at how far the pendulum has swung toward coddling criminals and ignoring crime victims,” said Graham. “We've seen so many bills pass the House and Senate that give criminals preferential treatment, reduce their sentences, ignore previous offenses, and let them back into our communities early and unsupervised. It is an absolute, undeniable fact that our families, communities and children are less safe due to the actions of this Legislature. Period.

“The deck is stacked against the crime victims, now, and that needs to change,” said Graham.

Graham pointed to existing state law that she says is currently not being upheld. RCW 7.69.010 says:

“The legislature further intends to ensure that all victims and witnesses of crime are treated with dignity, respect, courtesy, and sensitivity; and that the rights extended in this chapter to victims, survivors of victims, and witnesses of crime are honored and protected by law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, and judges in a manner no less vigorous than the protections afforded criminal defendants.”

RCW 7.69.010

“With the actions taken by the Legislature over the last few years, and especially this year, I don't think we can say victims of violent crime are being honored and protected 'in a manner no less vigorous than the protections afforded criminal defendants,'” said Graham. “I'm proposing this legislation to bring balance and common sense back into our judicial system, and with the safety of our families and communities in mind.”

Graham knows her legislation has little chance of passing this year as the 105-day 2021 legislative session is scheduled to end in just over two weeks. However, her bill will have a head start heading into the next legislative session and, Graham said, she will continue to work on the proposal throughout the interim.

“This is a conversation we need to have,” said Graham. “I intend to seek input from prosecutors, victims' advocates, legislators, and others in the judicial system. We need to come up with a viable solution so victims of violent crime have access to justice.”

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Washington State House Republican Communications
houserepublicans.wa.gov