Legislature(1993 - 1994)
03/11/1993 08:00 AM STA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 119: AUTHORIZE USE OF DAY FINES IN MISD. CASES Number 405 CHAIRMAN VEZEY read the title of HB 119 and asked its sponsor, Representative Fran Ulmer for her comments. Number 410 REPRESENTATIVE FRAN ULMER, PRIME SPONSOR OF HB 119, explained the motivation of HB 119 was to deal with the increasing caseload in the courts and to alleviate prison overcrowding in Alaska. She explained that under the system convicts would be fined based on their daily salary, no violent criminals would be considered under the program, and judges would have discretion when to employ day fines. Number 467 REPRESENTATIVE SANDERS asked what would happen to those with no daily income. Number 469 REPRESENTATIVE ULMER explained that permanent fund checks were always available for fine payments, and in most cases, people had some form of income that could be tracked down. She noted under the statute, the court could also levy fines against future earnings, while retaining the option of either jail time or probation. Number 488 REPRESENTATIVE KOTT asked if the day fines' statute would apply for crimes with mandatory sentencing. REPRESENTATIVE ULMER replied in the negative. Number 495 REPRESENTATIVE KOTT asked if the plan would discriminate, since many richer people would be able to walk free under the plan, while those with no money would not have the option. Number 500 REPRESENTATIVE ULMER deferred the question to the Alaska Court System's representative in attendance. Number 505 CHARLES S. CHRISTENSEN, III, STAFF COUNSEL, ALASKA COURT SYSTEM, explained that the State Supreme Court supported the concept behind HB 119, saying it would give judges more sentencing discretion, which would alleviate prison crowding, and simultaneously bring in more money into the general fund. Number 520 CHAIRMAN VEZEY asked the number of misdemeanant days currently being served in Alaska prisons. MR. CHRISTENSEN referred the committee to the Department of Corrections, noting inmates might not serve the entire sentence imposed by the court, since they might earn "good time" while in custody. Number 536 REPRESENTATIVE KOTT reiterated his question about rich people being able to walk away from prison, while poor people would not have the option to pay. MR. CHRISTENSEN explained that under the current system, the highest misdemeanor fine was $5,000. He noted judges tried to treat similar misdemeanants the same, which meant that most of the time, $250 fines were routinely handed out, since most people could afford that. He explained that meant rich people were getting off far easier than they might under the day fine system. Number 563 REPRESENTATIVE KOTT asked what would happen if other attachments were made to a misdemeanant's permanent fund check. MR. CHRISTENSEN explained a priority list for attaching permanent fund checks for court fines now exists. Number 582 REPRESENTATIVE KOTT asked if a system was already in place to impose day fine penalties. MR. CHRISTENSEN explained a statute passed several years ago which prohibited the imposition of fines on an ability to pay basis, and several laws would have to be modified or repealed. Number 592 REPRESENTATIVE ULMER concurred with Mr. Christensen's assessment, and said a bigger problem was that the maximum fines in Alaska were low, and judges had little discretion in imposing them. Number 598 MR. CHRISTENSEN noted under the day fine system, a schedule to impose fines would be laid out, and the result would be a more equitable treatment of misdemeanants. Number 605 CHAIRMAN VEZEY asked if misdemeanants had a right to trial. MR. CHRISTENSEN replied in the affirmative. CHAIRMAN VEZEY then asked for an estimate on the cost of a misdemeanor trial. Number 612 MR. CHRISTENSEN did not have exact figures, but said the cost of an average trial would exceed the average misdemeanor fine of $250. CHAIRMAN VEZEY reminded Mr. Christensen of an old misdemeanor penalty that gave defendants the choice of a $250 fine or five days in jail, which had been struck down. He asked if day fines would encounter a similar fate. Number 631 MR. CHRISTENSEN said it would not, because the judge would have the penalty option, not the defendant. Number 638 REPRESENTATIVE SANDERS asked if the fines would cover the costs to the court for instituting the program. MR. CHRISTENSEN said every estimate he had indicated the program would pay for itself. In response to an earlier question by Chairman Vezey, he remembered the cost for a single trial was about $600. Number 653 REPRESENTATIVE SANDERS was concerned about poor people dragging out the process and trying to convince the court they were too poor to pay a fine. Number 659 MR. CHRISTENSEN noted about 80% of the misdemeanant cases heard were defended by public advocates, and defendants were required to prove their indigence before those advocates could take their case. Number 675 REPRESENTATIVE ULMER asked the committee to examine the day fine report enclosed in their packets, which detailed Europe's use of day fines, and how the U.S., in contrast, had imprisoned more people than fining them. She suggested fines would be far more cost effective than building new prisons. Number 693 REPRESENTATIVE G. DAVIS noted several other criminal justice related bills were in committee, and asked if an omnibus bill might be possible. TAPE 93-28, SIDE B Number 000 REPRESENTATIVE ULMER stated HB 119 was the most promising of the group of crime bills, and had the most immediate financial payback to the state. Number 031 REPRESENTATIVE SANDERS asked for and received reassurances from Representative Ulmer that day fines would not be an option for sentencing in violent crimes. Number 070 CHAIRMAN VEZEY noted the longtime problems with prison overcrowding and caseloads, and expressed his preliminary support for HB 119. REPRESENTATIVE KOTT, speaking as a member of the Sentencing Commission, agreed with Representative Ulmer that HB 119 seemed to be the most promising bill to come out of the commission, and MOVED passage. Without objections, HB 119 was moved from committee by a unanimous vote.