King County Superior Court presiding judge on ‘catch and release perception’
Many recent headlines in the Seattle area center on the “catch and release” phenomenon — when repeat offenders are released back into the community after serving little to no time, only to go on and re-offend.
One of these headlines was the story last week of 36-year-old Anthony Chilcott, a frequent offender who allegedly stole a vehicle with a beloved pet dog inside, led police on two high-speed chases, and was ultimately killed in an officer-involved shooting.
“That was an incredibly serious event, trying to run from the police,” said King County Superior Court Presiding Judge James Rogers.
Less than two weeks prior, King County Superior Court Judge Chad Allred had released Chilcott from the King County Jail on his own recognizance only, despite the fact that he had resisted officers at the time of his arrest, causing thousands of dollars worth of damage to the police car, and despite the fact that the prosecutor had recommended $5,000 bail.
Rogers explained to KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson that according to court rules, people charged with crimes that are not capital crimes should be released on personal recognizance, unless they 1) fail to appear in court, 2) intimidate witnesses, or 3) are highly likely to re-offend.
“With Mr. Chilcott, because it wasn’t a violent crime that was charged, we’re just talking about property crime,” Rogers said, adding, “I’m not saying he didn’t act violently with police when they tried to arrest him, but there was no underlying charge, so we’re really looking, in our view, at a property crime.”
He said that the only factor likely to exempt Chilcott from the personal recognizance rule would have been failure to appear in court. On paper, Chilcott appeared to have a job in a restaurant and monetary support from a family member, so he seemed more likely to honor the court date.
“You’re looking at limited information from a judge who hears that he … does have prior warrants, but on the other hand, has a job and has somebody helping him out financially,” Rogers said.
If the judge “had any inkling” of what was to come, “they would not have let him out,” Rogers noted.
“It’s important to look at this not in the rear-view mirror, but with what the judge knew at the time,” he emphasized.
Public perception of ‘catch and release’ system
The criminal justice system has come under fire recently for what some see as the ‘catch and release’ system — especially after a study by Seattle business leaders released earlier this year found that much of Seattle’s crime is committed by the same 100 “prolific offenders.”
While judges “are bound by criminal rules approved by the Washington State Supreme Court — and they do give a very strong presumption of release, unless certain factors are met,” they still “take the rights of victims seriously,” Rogers stated.
The “presumption of release” is likely stronger with property crimes than with violent crimes, Rogers guessed. He said that the jail is full of people charged with violent crimes who do not get set free on their own recognizance.
“When it comes to a property crime, we’re really restricted to talking about whether or not they’re going to appear [in court],” he said.
Last week, Dori stated that Judge Allred had Chilcott’s blood on his hands for not keeping the repeat offender behind bars. Rogers disagreed with this analysis.
“If [a defendant is] released for resisting arrest from police, there’s no chance that you’re going to be able to predict the kind of outrageous behavior that Mr. Chilcott did, which was harmful to … everyone where he was driving, harmful to the people who had that dog and the car,” he said.
The heavy decisions judge make on a daily basis certainly do weigh on them, Rogers said. He called this most recent case “a cautionary tale for the next time we make a decision.”
“We try to do the best we can, and we’re constantly thinking about what we did,” he said.
Listen to the Dori Monson Show weekday afternoons from 12-3 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.