A 2011 bill sponsored by state Sens. Debbie Regala and Jim Hargrove would have amended the state’s sexually violent predator law, in part by compelling committed offenders to participate in in-person interviews with an evaluator during their annual review.
The idea, explains David Hackett, the King County prosecutor who helped draft the amended language, was to encourage offenders at McNeil Island to undergo treatment. Currently, according to the Washington State Institute for Public Policy, just 37 percent of the resident population does. Lawmakers argued the annual review system created one major unintended consequence of indefinite civil commitment; namely, offenders could zip their lips, refuse treatment and effectively age out of confinement through continuous litigation.
“Basically, you didn’t do anything and your attorney would claim in court all the information about you was old and outdated,” Hackett says. “That’s a pretty common strategy [among defense attorneys].”
But the bill went one step further: It placed the burden of proof on the offender, rather than the state, to “prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the person’s condition has so changed” that he no longer meets the definition of a sexually violent predator.
SB 5202 “was pretty much dead on arrival,” says Brooke Burbank, an assistant attorney general. The bill passed the Senate unanimously, and made it through the House, but in a drastically altered form. Eventually it went nowhere. “The defense bar has a very strong lobby and they did not like [it],” says Burbank.