Legislature(1995 - 1996)
03/27/1995 02:30 PM JUD
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 201 - PRISONER LITIGATION AND APPEALS Number 400 LAURIE OTTO, Deputy Attorney General, Criminal Division, Department of Law, described HB 201. One of the things that the Governor asked when he first took office is for everyone to look at their future budgets. One thing in the Criminal Division Budget, is a growing number of Corrections' lawyers that work for the Department of Law. Over the last four years, there has been a 20 percent growth rate in the number of civil cases being filed against the state by prisoners. Alaskan prisoners litigate at a tremendously high rate. Many times, prisoners litigate just for something to spend their time on and to get back at the people who are imprisoning them. One of the things that has been successful in other states is requiring prisoners to pay partial filing fees. New York's prisoner litigation rate has dropped in half since they established this requirement. Right now, most prisoners are pretty much exempt from paying filing fees because they are considered indigent in most cases. So they can file a civil action without any immediate cost or any ultimate financial risk. If you or I file a civil suit, we have to pay a filing fee, and we are potentially liable for the other side's attorney's fees if we lose. That is not a realistic possibility if you are talking about a prisoner. So what we did, is say that if you are in prison and do not have the $100 filing fee, you have to pay essentially 20 percent of the average six month balance in your inmate account. So if the average monthly balance over a six month period is $5, you have to pay $1; if it is $100, you have to pay $20. You have to pay SOMETHING in order to get a case filed in court. Also, if you are paying less than full filing fees, the bill would require the court to make a finding not after an investigation, but just based on the pleadings before the court, that it is not malicious, frivolous, or brought in bad faith, so that there is an initial screening step that the court has to take in accepting a case where less than full filing fees have been paid. That is purpose number 1 of the bill. MS. OTTO explained purpose number 2. People are able to file sentence appeals as a matter of right in the state. If you have been given a sentence in excess of a year for a felony, or 90 days for a misdemeanor, you can file a sentence appeal. That it is your right. There is no screening. You can file an appeal and the court has to hear it. We are upping those limits to two years for a felony and 120 days for a misdemeanor. We have gone back and looked at court system statistics, and we see that only a very small percentage of sentence appeals are granted, that 90 percent of sentences are affirmed. We looked at the body of cases where they were being affirmed, and there is a case called Austin that talks about giving somebody who is a first felony offender more than the sentence for a second felony offender. For class C felonies, it is two years, and if you are within that two year range, which is within the Austin limits, the courts pretty routinely reject the sentence appeals, so we tried to pick the bulk of sentence appeals where they were routinely being denied by the courts. Part of the theory here is to allow all the agencies involved, the courts, the prosecutors, the public defenders and the Office of Public Advocacy, to focus on the cases where there is a likelihood of prevailing as opposed to the cases where they are routinely being denied, and we are all just churning up resources. We have also said that if you agree to a particular sentence, so that if you were convicted of second degree murder, and you agree to a sentence between 30 and 40 years; if you get 40 years, this bill would say you can no longer appeal that sentence as being excessive, because it is part of what you agreed to. If you plea to second degree murder with the understanding that you will not get less than 20 years but the state can argue for up to 99 years, it says if you get 20 years, you cannot appeal the sentence, but you can if you get 99 years because that is more than what you agreed to as the minimum. If you get within the minimum, or within the range of what you agreed to, those can no longer be appealed. Right now, those cases are being appealed. The bill is trying to put some finality to criminal convictions. Number 730 REPRESENTATIVE FINKELSTEIN asked under what circumstances you can still appeal despite the restrictions. MS. OTTO answered that they are on page 9, starting on line 19. These would include instances where there was something to physically prevent you from filing a claim, such as a guard in a correctional institute refusing to take your paperwork, and you are depending upon them to file it. That would be an exception. Also if you came up with evidence that would show that you are innocent, that would be an exception. REPRESENTATIVE BUNDE asked Ms. Otto to explain Section 3. MS. OTTO answered that under Evidence Rules 608 and 609, they spell out the circumstances in which you can impeach, attack or discredit a witness. CHAIRMAN PORTER asked Ms. Otto if she felt there would be an equal protection problem with the different treatment of those who are indigent as opposed to those who are not. Number 820 MS. OTTO said she had spoken with Ms. Carpeneti about this, and Ms. Knuth has been working on it this morning. They would prefer the bill were amended to say that the sections that are on page 3, and continue on to page 4, only apply to people who are indigent and are filing partial fees. We would prefer this to apply to all prisoners who have filed a lawsuit for exactly the reason that you are saying. We feel that making people who are poor jump through different hoops than people who are not poor is a problem from an equal protection standpoint. We would like the bill amended to reflect that change. Number 860 CHAIRMAN PORTER said the bill would be held over until one o'clock on Wednesday, in order to draft a committee substitute.