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Letter from Sheriff Eric Peter about Controlled Substance Homicide Sentencing

  • Written by Sheriff Eric Peter

My fellow community members,

As a San Juan County resident, as an advocate for public safety, and as your Sheriff, it is with a heavy heart and genuine frustration with our judicial system that I am addressing everyone with an update on the sentencing that took place on November 21, 2023 in a Controlled Substance Homicide case. The process has been ongoing for the past 15 months and involves the tragic death of a youth in our community.

The defendant in this case pleaded guilty, and the sentencing range in Washington State for this offense is 51-68 months. By law the Judge must consider mitigating factors and whether the defendant was a minor at the time of the offense. The Judge presiding over this case made the decision to go outside of the guidelines and imposed a sentence of only 34 months with 8 months credit for time served, and one year of community custody after being released.

Because our state laws designate this offense as a “non-violent” offense and persons convicted & remanded to the custody of the Department of Corrections are eligible for “good time”, there is a possibility the defendant will receive a reduction of up to 1/3 of their sentence. With 26 months left to serve and the possibility of getting approximately 8 months off of this sentence, the defendant could end up serving less than 2 years for the death of another young person in our community.

This defendant not only knowingly provided the Fentanyl that resulted in the tragic death of the young victim but is also documented as refusing to provide any information as to the identity of the person from whom he received the Fentanyl, so the further distribution of this poison in our community could be stopped.

A young person, with a whole life ahead of them, lost their life as a result of being given a fatal dose of Fentanyl by the defendant. A family has lost their child and a sibling. This family, as well as too many other families, have lost their loved ones, and while there is nothing that can bring their loved ones back, our judicial system should be doing more to hold the convicted persons accountable, provide justice to the victims and their families, and prevent more deaths in our communities.

This sentence is an insult to the victim, to their family, and to our entire community.

I have been in Law Enforcement for 28 ½ years and my extreme frustration and disappointment with our Judicial system is greater than it’s ever been, especially here in Washington State. I never thought I would live in a world where the rights of the persons convicted of a crime seem to matter more than the rights of the victims and the law-abiding residents of San Juan County.

This is not about what side you are on, liberal or conservative, or law enforcement or non-law enforcement. This is about saving lives, holding people accountable, and giving victims and their families the respect and attention, they deserve.

I am the first to admit that nobody and no organization is perfect, including law enforcement; however, regardless of how well intended some of the changes in the law may be, more and more people are being victims of crimes and more and more people are dying.

It’s worth noting that according to DOC’s own numbers (Data Analytics | Washington State Department of Corrections) the DOC average daily population decreased by over 22% (Oct 2019- 16,650 – Oct 2023- 12,902) while the population in our state has increased significantly. The 2022 Crime in Washington Report shows that crime in Washington increased across the board and the number of commissioned officers statewide decreased. Washington again is ranked 51st out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia for the number of officers per thousand residents.

These changes in our laws and sentencing guidelines are having negative and tragic outcomes on the victims and law-abiding citizens in our communities. I encourage you to communicate your concerns and your opinions with our elected policy makers, and I pledge to work with you to make the changes we need. Our community deserves better.

Eric Peter- Sheriff

San Juan County Sheriff’s Office