`One Strike' Proposed For Sex Offenders -- Initiative Seeks Life For Crimes Against Children
Seattle Times East Bureau
In Chris Clifford's view, sex offenders don't deserve second chances: One strike, and they're out.
The Renton activist and Seattle sports-bar owner is leading a signature-gathering drive that calls for locking up first-time sex offenders forever. The initiative targets those convicted of first-degree sex crimes against children and proposes mandatory life sentences with no parole and a minimum $100,000 fine.
Under current state guidelines, aggravated first-degree murder is the only crime that carries a life sentence with no possibility of parole for first-time offenders.
If Clifford's proposal were in effect, 71 people convicted this year in King County of the sex crimes listed in the initiative would have started serving life sentences.
And convicted sex offender Scott Stoller, arrested last week and charged with two counts of first-degree child rape, would not have been walking the streets, Clifford said.
"(Stoller) only reaffirms why this is so necessary," Clifford said. "He's our Willie Horton."
Initiative 194 covers four types of Class A felonies: first-degree rape of a child; first-degree child molestation; sexual exploitation of a minor; and selling or distributing child pornography.
It would upgrade sexual exploitation of a minor from a Class B felony and selling or distributing child pornography from a Class C felony.
Calling for mandatory life sentences upon first convictions "does seem somewhat contrary to the fundamental approach to sentencing in our state," said Larry Fehr, executive director of the nonprofit Washington Council on Crime and Delinquency.
"No one should ever downplay or forget the victims (of sex abuse), but there's also a matter of balance and perspective," Fehr said. "Is it fair that murderers could serve less time? . . . Typically, murder is seen as the most serious offense."
The initiative doesn't allow judges to use discretion in sentencing, Fehr added.
The present sentencing range is six to 8 1/2 years for a first conviction of first-degree rape, according to Dick Van Wagenen, executive director of the state's Sentencing Guidelines Commission. At the judge's discretion, longer sentences are handed down in one in four cases, Van Wagenen said.
Of the 71 people convicted in King County this year of one of the crimes listed in the initiative, 39 were convicted of first-degree rape of a child, 30 of first-degree child molestation and two of sexual exploitation of a minor. In first-degree rape cases, state law defines a child as 12 years old or younger, and the perpetrator must be at least two years older than the victim.
Clifford, a former aide to the state Senate Republican caucus, said he's taking a proactive, rather than reactive, approach to crime. Neither he nor his children, ages 10 and 7, have been abused, he said.
"Who's the prisoner?" he asked. "Do our children need to be monitored 24 hours a day to keep them out of the hands of these predators? If you look at the number of these people they're re-releasing into society, the answer is yes."
Since February 1990, when the state started mandatory registration for sex offenders released from prison, 342 have registered in Seattle. Of these, 148 had served time for first-degree rape of a child, and 194 for first-degree child molestation.
Mandatory registration does not apply to those convicted of sexual exploitation of a minor or selling or distributing child pornography.
In Renton, where Clifford lives, there currently are 42 registered offenders; 16 who had served for first-degree child rape, and 26 who had served for first-degree child molestation.
State Rep. Ida Ballasiotes, R-Mercer Island, says the logistics of enforcing Clifford's initiative would be complicated and costly.
Ballisiotes championed the recently approved "two strikes, you're out" refinement of the state's three-strikes law. The two-strikes version sends offenders of serious sex crimes against children to prison for life upon their second offense.
King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng supported the two-strikes bill but said at the time he was concerned that the mandatory life sentence might deter family members from turning in a relative. He said 95 percent of sex-abuse crimes against children involve someone in the family.
Ballasiotes also proposed a bill that would send first-time sex offenders who committed their crimes against children to prison for 25 years; a second offense would carry a life sentence.
The bill passed the House, but couldn't get a hearing in the Senate, in large part, Ballasiotes said, because of the projected costs of having so many prisoners serving life sentences.
Neither Ballisiotes nor Clifford think state-funded rehabilitation for sex offenders works, and Clifford says trying to reform predators costs more than locking them away forever.
That's another reason he filed his initiative with the secretary of state. He got the go-ahead nine weeks ago to collect the 181,667 valid signatures needed to send it to the Legislature. The deadline is Jan. 3.
"If this thing doesn't get (the required signatures), then I really misread the people of this state," Clifford said. ". . . Freedom for these proven predators comes at way too high of a cost for our children."
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