D.C. Council Overrides Mayor’s Veto, Lightens Sentencing for Carjackings and Gun Crimes

Washington Post says changes to the criminal code will make the nation's capital 'more dangerous'

Washington, D.C., mayor Muriel Bowser (Getty Images)
January 17, 2023

The D.C. Council on Tuesday voted to override Democratic Mayor Muriel Bowser’s veto of an update to the district’s criminal code which will reduce sentences for carjackings, robberies, and gun-related felonies in the nation's capital.

The all-Democratic council voted 12-1 against Bowser, who vetoed what she called "a complete overhaul of our criminal code" that would make the district less safe. The revised code shrank some sentence lengths for gun charges to less than five years. Councilmember Trayon White (D.), who has accused Jews of manipulating the weather, cast the only vote siding with the mayor.

In 2021, D.C. had its highest murder rate in more than 18 years, with 226 killings recorded. There has also been a rash of carjackings over the past five years, affecting city council candidates and pro-athletes alike.

Even the liberal Washington Post editorial board warned that the revised code would make the city "more dangerous" in a Sunday editorial.

In a Jan. 4 letter announcing her veto, Bowser noted that convicted violent felons who go on to commit other crimes with guns face a maximum sentence of just 4 years, as opposed to the previous 15 years. Armed robbers no longer face sentence enhancements for felony gun possession. The mayor also urged the council to raise penalties that had been reduced for carjackers and burglars.

Councilmember Brooke Pinto (D.) opposed Bowser’s decision last week arguing the opposite: that the new code is safer as well as "more just, equitable, and clear." Fellow member Charles Allen (D.) accused the council’s critics of promoting "misinformation" about the code, ABC 7 News reported.

Pinto tried at one point to beef up charges for illegal gun possession through an amendment, but was voted down. "It is not a good message from this council to say we are going to reduce penalties for guns," she said in November before voting to pass the code without the amendment, according to DCist.

The D.C. chapter of Black Lives Matter slammed Bowser for her veto, calling the move "performative distraction."

"She cares about spotlights, murals and opportunities to misdirect and misinform," the group said on Twitter.

The criminal code changes, which the council had unanimously approved in November, will now be sent to Congress for review. If Congress approves the plan in the next 60 days, it will go to President Joe Biden for his signature. The earliest the code could take effect then would be October 2025.

Update 2:57 p.m.: This piece has been updated with additional information.