Mayor Muriel Bowser vetoed bill passed unanimously by Democratic council

The D.C. Council is expected to override Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s veto of sweeping criminal reform legislation that will soften penalties for many violent crimes, including carjackings and burglaries.

Bowser vetoed the Revised Criminal Code Act earlier this month after the council, which lacks a single Republican member, voted unanimously to adopt it in November. The overhaul of the city’s criminal code includes reduced maximum sentences, the elimination of nearly all mandatory minimum sentences, and expanded rights to jury trials by those accused of misdemeanors.

Criminal justice reform advocates say the bill is necessary to modernize the law, which was written in 1901, and ensure that punishments are proportionate to the crimes being committed.

But opponents have sounded the alarm on provisions that would allow D.C. inmates to ask for early release 20 years into their sentence, even those accused of violent crimes like murder or sexual assault.

Bowser voiced concerns about the reduced penalties provisions of the bill when she vetoed it on Jan. 3.

“Anytime there is a policy that reduces penalties, I think it sends the wrong message,” she said.

Council members are expected to override Bowser’s veto and send the bill to Congress, where federal lawmakers will have 60 days to review it. Within that period, Congress may enact a joint resolution disapproving the Council’s Act. If President Biden approves the resolution, the act will be prevented from becoming law.

New D.C. Attorney General Brian Schwalb voiced support for the overhaul, tweeting, “This bill will improve public safety and provide long overdue clarity and fairness in our justice system. [The Revised Criminal Code Act] should be the law of the District.”

“Today, @CMCharlesAllen and I are moving to override the Mayor’s veto of the Revised Criminal Code Act,” tweeted council member Brooke Pinto. “The veto threatens to unravel years of work and thorough study that has culminated in a criminal code that is more just, equitable, & clear — making us all safer.”

“I will vote to override the Mayor’s veto of the Revised Criminal Code Act,” tweeted council member Matt Frumin. “The RCCA modernizes our criminal code, making it more transparent and equitable, and will promote public safety.”