The overturned conviction of LaTanya Clemmons is sparking new legislation in Olympia more than three years after her brother Maurice gunned down four Lakewood police officers.
In 2010, a Pierce County court found LaTanya Clemmons guilty of aiding her brother’s getaway driver, Dorcus Allen.
But a state appeals court overturned LaTanya Clemmons’ conviction in June 2012, saying prosecutors hadn’t proven that she knew the extent of Allen’s crimes.
Now, a state senator from Lakewood wants to change Washington law so people can be prosecuted for aiding a criminal whether or not they know exactly what that person had done.
Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, described Senate Bill 5059 as a “cleanup” bill. It would prevent those charged with rendering criminal assistance from defending themselves by saying they didn’t know the severity of the other person’s crime.
It also would make it irrelevant whether a person’s knowledge of the crime is based on hearsay and secondhand accounts, or whether they heard it from the perpetrator directly.
Carrell called the LaTanya Clemmons case “the poster child for what’s wrong with our current laws,” saying she and other people who helped her brother evade police “basically got a slap on the wrist.”
Prosecutors charged six people with rendering criminal assistance to Maurice Clemmons. Five were convicted and received sentences ranging from five to 10 years.
The state Senate approved Carrell’s measure on a vote of 44-5 Wednesday. The proposal now heads to the state House.
Prosecutors, including Tom McBride of the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, were among those who backed the measure.
“We’re trying to make sure the focus remains on two things, and this is what the state has to prove: you intended to prevent this person from being apprehended or to hinder the investigation, and you knew there was a crime,” McBride said, “and that we get those issues to the jury without them being taken off the table by arguments that, ‘Well I didn’t know exactly what crime it was,’ or, ‘I didn’t know the person was going to take a firearm to this robbery.’”
In the case of LaTanya Clemmons, Pierce County prosecutors alleged that she drove Allen to a Federal Way motel and gave him money for a bus ticket, knowing full well that Allen had driven her brother away from the coffee shop where he shot four police officers on Nov. 29, 2009.
The appellate court said that prosecutors had insufficient evidence to convict her, and couldn’t prove that she knew that Allen was wanted as an accomplice for murder.
The appellate court’s ruling “arguably threw some confusion onto the level of specificity that we need to prove,” Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said Thursday.
“We argued on appeal that we didn’t need to prove that specificity, that it wasn’t required under statute,” Lindquist said. “This legislation would clarify any potential confusion on the issue.”
The bill would also apply aggravating sentencing factors — such as sentence enhancements that apply when victims are police officers — to the person who helps someone get away with the crime.
Defense attorneys opposed those provisions, saying you can’t hold someone accountable for aspects of a crime that they may or may not know about.
“Knowledge has to be tied to the level of punishment,” said Gregory Link with the Washington Defender Association.
Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, agreed, voting against the proposal.
“So if it turns out that it was a victim, in this case police officers, who lead to an aggravating factor, you get the aggravating factor even though your knowledge about that was so nonspecific that you didn’t know that,” Kline said.
Carrell’s bill marks the second time the state Legislature has looked at Washington’s rendering criminal assistance law since the 2009 murders of Lakewood police Sgt. Mark Renninger and officers Tina Griswold, Gregory Richards and Ronald Owens.
In 2010, the Legislature modified an exemption that allowed family members to be charged with a misdemeanor instead of a felony if the person they helped evade police was a close relative.
That exemption now applies only to relatives under 18.
Melissa Santos: 360-357-0209