Prosecutors in the Puget Sound are cracking down on repeat gun felons.
“If you decide to pack a gun after you’ve already been convicted of a violent felony, watch out. You could be doing ten years or more in a federal penitentiary,” says King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg.
It’s been nearly a year since Satterberg partnered with U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan to expand the use of federal prosecutions for local gun crimes. The effort began last summer after a spike in gun violence in Seattle.
Since then, the U.S. Attorney’s office has prosecuted 29 cases in King County, including 12 crimes that occurred in the city of Seattle.
One of those cases involves Bill Chambers, the man who was convicted as a juvenile in the 2010 murder of “Tuba Man” Ed McMichael. In the current case being tried, Chambers was found in a car that had a stolen assault rifle in the trunk. Durkan has worked out a plea deal that will likely result in sentencing Chambers to six years in prison when he’s in court later this month.
“We would have been able to sentence him to about a three-year term in prison, and so going through the federal system will result in twice the prison time and much more intensive, up to three years of probation, when he gets out,” says Satterberg.
Last month, a man was sentenced in federal court for a gun crime in Tukwila. Piseth Mam fired shots at an apartment complex, although no one was injured. Still, the U.S. Attorney was able to get a sentence of ten years in prison.
“In that particular case, he was involved in identity theft as well,” says Durkan, “We will look to see whether our gun laws are stronger, but we will also look to see whether they violated other laws that could give them greater sanctions.”
The King County Prosecutor says his office would never have been able to get a ten-year sentence. Mam likely would have spent less than half that amount of time behind bars.
“It would have been about five-and-a-half to six years in the state system, and they would do two thirds of that time. You get one third off for good behavior in the state system,” says Satterberg.
Most of these repeat offenders would not be under any kind of state supervision after they finished their jail time. Even if they were, they could easily drop off the radar simply by moving between jurisdictions. Durkan says that’s much harder to do in the federal system.
“Every conviction in federal court will be in the database and will be flagged, and if an offender gets out and wants to move from our location and is still under that supervision, they’ll be supervised wherever they go,” says Durkan.
Satterberg says word is getting out about the partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s office, and it’s lightening the load for his office in more ways than one. The county attorney is seeing fewer trials these days. Felons are willing to plead out to avoid the longer, harsher sentence they could face in federal court.
“One of the reasons includes that there are no federal prisons in the state of Washington, so you have to go do your time far away from your friends or family. Nobody will come visit you if you’re in Kentucky or Kansas,” says Satterberg.
The prosecutors agree, the system is working and they want it to continue. The only thing that might stand in their way is money.
“We’ve seen nationally that budgets are being reduced, and with sequestration, the reality is we have fewer personnel to do cases,” says Durkan. “We are committed to doing this program as long as we have a budget to do it.”
Although they couldn’t put an exact figure on the cost, Durkan and Satterberg both say the program is worth every penny.