Legislature(1999 - 2000)
03/27/2000 01:20 PM JUD
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 367 - REVOCATION OF DRIVING PRIVILEGES CHAIRMAN KOTT announced that the first order of business would be HOUSE BILL NO. 367, "An Act providing for the revocation of driving privileges by a court for a driver convicted of a violation of traffic laws in connection with a fatal motor vehicle or commercial motor vehicle accident; and amending Rules 43 and 43.1, Alaska Rules of Administration." Number 0115 ANNE CARPENETI, Assistant Attorney General, Legal Services Section - Juneau, Criminal Division, Department of Law, informed the committee that the problem that HB 367 addresses occurs maybe six to eight times a year in Alaska. She explained that perhaps a driver dozes and crosses the center line or accidentally slides through a stoplight and is in a traffic accident that results in the death of a person. The driving is not such that it would rise to a culpable criminally negligent state; the person could not be charged with criminally negligent homicide or any crime involving the accident. Currently, the person may be cited for crossing the center line and the traffic offense; this is difficult for the family of the victim who was killed and not at fault in any way. Ms. Carpeneti explained that the problem is that it cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the person drove with a culpable mental state that rises to criminal negligence, which is the lowest culpable mental state for crimes in the state. Therefore, HB 367 was proposed. MS. CARPENETI informed members that HB 367 provides that if a person cited for a moving traffic violation in connection with a fatal accident is convicted beyond a reasonable doubt of the cited offense, and if the court finds that the accident contributed to the death of a person, then the person cited for the moving traffic violation should have his/her driver's license revoked for one year. Number 0250 REPRESENTATIVE GREEN informed the committee that 30 years or so ago, he was driving up about a two-mile grade in the center of three lanes. In the far right lane there was a slow moving, improperly lit semi-truck. Upon looking in the rearview mirror, Representative Green could see that there were two cars racing. As those cars approached Representative Green's car, the car approaching in the far-left lane sped around him, while the car approaching from behind swerved so close that Representative Green had to swerve and ended up hitting the aforementioned semi-truck in the rear. Upon impact, the tongue of the semi-truck went through the windshield and hit the seat where the passenger would have been. Indeed, he noted, he was supposed to have had a passenger. Representative Green informed the committee that he was cited for improper passing. He asked if he would have been cited had the passenger been present and killed. In response to Ms. Carpeneti, Representative Green answered that he did not appeal the charge and thus was convicted by default. MS. CARPENETI pointed out that under HB 367, Representative Green would have had the right to a jury trial. With regard to whether Representative Green would have been cited had the passenger been present and killed, Ms. Carpeneti specified that it would depend upon the circumstances. She further specified that Representative Green would have to have been convicted beyond a reasonable doubt of the citation and the court would have to have found, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the violation for which Representative Green had been cited had contributed to the death of the person. REPRESENTATIVE GREEN commented, "Wouldn't that all apply, though? I mean, I have no witnesses." He acknowledged that he himself was a witness, but said, "I'm going to say that I didn't run into this guy or that somebody forced me off [the road] and they're gone." MS. CARPENETI replied yes. In response to whether that would do any good, Ms. Carpeneti affirmed that. REPRESENTATIVE GREEN noted that his lawyer in that instance had advised him that it would not be worth his time [to fight the charge]. MS. CARPENETI responded that if this bill had been in effect, then Representative Green's lawyer would have advised him to move forward to litigate the traffic citation. She added that she would have been surprised if Representative green would have been convicted under those circumstances because he was not at fault. Number 0469 REPRESENTATIVE JAMES asked how Alaska's law compares with Oregon's law regarding the basic speed rule. She explained that [in Oregon] if one has an accident that could be attributed to the person's not watching or driving at an inappropriate speed, the person would be guilty of violation of the basic speed law. She indicated that the basic speed law is all-inclusive. MS. CARPENETI stated that she is not familiar with Oregon's basic speed rule. She did not believe that people in Alaska are cited for basic speed [violations] unless an officer believes that a person was going faster than the conditions would warrant to be safe. Furthermore, a person cannot be convicted unless a court makes that determination based on evidence presented beyond a reasonable doubt. REPRESENTATIVE MURKOWSKI turned attention to the limited license. She asked: If it can be established that a person's' ability to earn a livelihood would be severely impaired without a limited license, are there standards regarding what constitutes severe impairment to one's livelihood? MS. CARPENETI answered that it is a fairly common procedure in which the court would make the determination. Usually a severe impairment would arise when the person has no access to public transportation or if it is impractical to obtain a ride from someone. She agreed with Representative Murkowski that it is a case-by-case determination. Number 0653 REPRESENTATIVE JAMES asked whether losing a driver's license for one year is punishment or an attempt to keep an unsafe driver off the road. MS. CARPENETI said she believes the main purpose of this is to keep an unsafe driver off the road, although part of the purpose is punishment. REPRESENTATIVE JAMES surmised, then, that this temporary license does not keep this individual [an unsafe driver] off the road. MS. CARPENETI clarified that the court has to make a determination that the limited license will not endanger the public. If that determination cannot be made, then the person is not granted a limited license. REPRESENTATIVE KERTTULA pointed out that limited licenses are often limited to the time of day when the individual needs to drive to work. MS. CARPENETI agreed. She specified that a limited license would be for use during, say, 7:30 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Nor is a limited license automatically granted. The individual must convince the judge that he or she would not endanger the public by driving during those limited hours. REPRESENTATIVE GREEN expressed concern regarding the courts' handling of DUIs [charges of driving under the influence]. He realizes that the court cannot bring the accusation, he said, but he has observed cases in which people have lost their license. In three cases he observed that each time these individuals were brought up on DUI charges - and there were multiple times - these individuals plea bargained down to a lesser offense. Representative Green stressed that these individuals are a menace on the highway. He asked if the same situation would occur under this legislation. MS. CARPENETI remarked that she would have to know the individual facts of those cases. She acknowledged that it is discouraging for people to observe cases being plea bargained down, and she noted that [the department] takes DUI charges very seriously. Ms. Carpeneti stated that the purpose of this [bill] is to have significant consequences under these circumstances, and therefore she would not say [that the same situation would occur under this bill]. REPRESENTATIVE GREEN expressed his belief that a habitual drunk who consistently beats the system is a menace. He informed everyone that the prosecuting attorney [of these aforementioned DUI cases] had told him that he had too many cases and thus plea bargaining was a much easier road. He commented, "That was disgusting." MS. CARPENETI agreed. She pointed out that a person convicted of a DWI/DUI can have his/her license taken under other statutory procedures. Number 0957 REPRESENTATIVE MURKOWSKI posed a situation in which a commercial truck driver, through whatever reason, has [had an accident] in which a death resulted. She surmised that this statute would require the license of the commercial truck driver to be taken. In and of itself, the license being taken is substantial punishment in that the person is losing the ability to earn a livelihood. She asked if this punishment, revocation of license for one year, is taken into account and, perhaps, the jail time for manslaughter is lessened. She also asked if double jeopardy would exist. MS. CARPENETI pointed out that the purpose of HB 367 is to provide consequences when a person cannot be charged with manslaughter or any other crime in connection with the traffic accident. REPRESENTATIVE MURKOWSKI surmised, then, that two different forms of punishment would not result. MS. CARPENETI replied no. This is for use in those cases in which [the driving is not such that it rises to] a criminally culpable mental state in the driving, but the person was careless. Number 1106 MARK CAMPBELL testified via teleconference from Palmer. He noted that Representative Ogan, his representative, had informed him of HB 367. Mr. Campbell related his experience with this issue in which his son was killed in a car accident six years ago. Of the six people in the car, two were killed and four were injured when a seventeen-year-old was speeding, lost control of the vehicle and entered the lane of oncoming traffic. Within a week the young man was driving a new truck. Mr. Campbell saw this young man drive through an intersection without heeding the light, which was brought out in court. In this situation, the maximum that the judge could charge was $50 per person injured, which resulted in a $300 fine. Therefore, Mr. Campbell had requested that the young man work off that fine through community service rather than merely pay the fine, which the judge granted. However, a little over a year later this young man was involved in a one car accident in which two other young lives were taken. Perhaps, if more could have been done, this young man may have viewed his driving privilege differently. Mr. Campbell felt that the system had failed. MR. CAMPBELL turned to HB 367. He commented that HB 367 seems to leave room for the judge to allow the individual to work while placing beneficial limitations on the individual. He clarified that [this would be appropriate] in a circumstance such as this. In conclusion, Mr. Campbell stated that HB 367 is a good bill that addresses the situation where a person acts unreasonably and yet is not criminally negligent in the sense of intent. He noted that parents who have lost children [in similar accidents] have contacted him and related the same experience with regard to the individual not feeling the weight of his or her unreasonable actions. Number 1384 REPRESENTATIVE GREEN inquired as to whether drugs and/or alcohol were involved in either case involving this young man. He further inquired as to the disposition of this young man now. MR. CAMPBELL said that in his son's case there were no drugs or alcohol involved. In the second accident, there was beer in the vehicle; however, he did not know whether there was an alcohol [test]. In further response to Representative Green, Mr. Campbell informed the committee that this young man is driving now. CHAIRMAN KOTT asked if there was anyone else who wished to testify. There being no one, public testimony was closed. Number 1476 REPRESENTATIVE MURKOWSKI moved to report HB 367 out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying three fiscal notes. There being no objection, it was so ordered and HB 367 was reported from the House Judiciary Standing Committee.