Legislature(1995 - 1996)

03/22/1996 09:20 AM FIN

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
       SENATE BILL NO. 167                                                     
       "An Act relating to day fines in certain criminal cases                 
  and  release  of  employment  information  for  use  in  the                 
  collection     of criminal judgments."                                       
  Senator Rieger said he did not notice that additional crimes                 
  could  be included in  the day fine.   The  problem with the                 
  bill was  the  treatment of  misdemeanants in  general.   In                 
  Alaska misdemeanants are not going to  jail.  This bill will                 
  not  relieve   prison  overcrowding.     He  introduced  two                 
  amendments that were recommendations.  Amendment #1 makes it                 
  the same calculation  for daily income for  all individuals.                 
  Amendment #2 sets day  fine minimum not below $40  nor above                 
  $4,000.   Co-chairman Halford  asked if that  was a combined                 
  total or was it by the day?   Senator Rieger said points are                 
  assigned  for  various crimes  which  are multiplied  by the                 
  calculation of daily  income.   Co-chairman Halford said  he                 
  would like to see the upper limit a  little higher.  Senator                 
  Rieger said crimes against individuals are excluded from day                 
  fine.   These are  misdemeanors.   Senator Frank  asked what                 
  were the crimes.   Senator Rieger said they were  driving in                 
  violation  of  an instruction  permit,  fraudulent use  of a                 
  credit card, concealment of  merchandise, contempt of court,                 
  petroleum discharge  without a  discharge contingency  plan,                 
  interference   of   constitutional   rights,   operating   a                 
  commercial vehicle or being off duty while  in possession of                 
  alcohol or  controlled substance,  leaving the  scene of  an                 
  injury  accident.    Senator Frank  asked  about  the $4,000                 
  maximum.   Co-chairman Halford  said the  fine was  based on                 
  one's net income.  $4,000 is the total fine.                                 
  Senator Donley asked  about the $4,000 cap.   Senator Rieger                 
  said there should  not be  a range  that is  greater than  a                 
  factor of 100, between the person with the lowest income and                 
  the  person  with the  highest income  to  pay for  the same                 
  offense.   The  Supreme Court schedule  of fines  shows many                 
  down around $50   Senator Frank asked what the  maximum fine                 
  was.  Senator  Rieger said  that for a  class A  misdemeanor                 
  including crimes against persons it is $5,000.                               
  Mr.  Chris Christensen,  General  Counsel, Judicial  Branch,                 
  Alaska Court System was  invited to join the committee.   He                 
  said he just reviewed the  amendments and indicated the bill                 
  as  submitted last year  and these  amendments to  it solved                 
  some technical  problems with the day fine  statute that was                 
  passed in  1984.  The  problem was the  Legislature's stated                 
  intent  in  passing  what  was  to  help  solve  Corrections                 
  problems by reducing the  number of people who were  in jail                 
  and to  increase the State's  fine collection  so the  State                 
  could  get more income from people who commit criminal acts.                 
  The problem is that 90% of those convicted and sent  to jail                 
  for misdemeanors  are convicted  of either  DWI, refusal  to                 
  take  breathalyzer  test,  driving with  license  suspended,                 
  driving with license revoked, simple  assault or violating a                 
  domestic violence restraining order.  But all of those fines                 
  are excluded from the day fines legislation.  A judge cannot                 
  give someone a day fine in lieu of a jail sentence for those                 
  six offenses.   The bill  will not reduce  the overcrowding.                 
  The second  problem  is that  the  Department of  Law  fines                 
  collection unit currently brings in a lot of money each year                 
  but the  percentage of  fines they  are able  to collect  is                 
  actually quite low and  unless they get some new  tools that                 
  rate is not  going to go  up.  The  day fines committee  had                 
  recommended that  the legislature  consider prohibiting  the                 
  issuance or renewal of State licenses and permits to persons                 
  who had not  paid criminal  fines.   That would  be one  new                 
  tool.  The legislature's intent in passing the day fines law                 
  in  1994  will not  be  met  by  passage of  this  piece  of                 
  legislation.    Co-chairman Halford  asked  if this  was not                 
  introduced by the  Court System.  Mr.  Christensen said that                 
  the  original bill was  introduced by  the Court  System and                 
  once the law  became effective there  was a long term  study                 
  done by  a committee made up of judges, representatives from                 
  the  executive  and legislative  branches  and that  was the                 
  point at which  we were  finally able to  determine that  in                 
  fact people were not being sent to jail for all those crimes                 
  that were covered by the bill.  When the bill was  passed by                 
  the Legislature in 1994 they had made a policy decision that                 
  it did not want  to include those six offenses.   Subsequent                 
  studies  showed that those  were in  fact the  offenses that                 
  were causing the  problems.   The reason none  of these  are                 
  covered by the bill is because  they either have a mandatory                 
  minimum jail  sentence or  they involve  violence against  a                 
  person.  Those are the two categories that the day fines law                 
  excluded from coverage.                                                      
  Senator Rieger MOVED  amendment #1.   Senator Zharoff  asked                 
  what was the  effect of  putting a minimum  and maximum  on.                 
  Mr. Christensen said that it was a policy called for by  the                 
  Legislature.  The real effect is  if the upper limit insures                 
  that people who make a great deal of money won't be paying a                 
  fine that is  commensurate with the fine of a  person with a                 
  lower income level.   Mr. Christensen gave the  committee an                 
  example of a  minimum and maximum  fine and said this  would                 
  essentially have the effect of putting  a cap on what people                 
  at upper income levels would pay.   Senator Zharoff asked if                 
  this was based on gross earnings.  Mr. Christensen said that                 
  it  was  a  complex  formula  in  which   the  earnings  are                 
  calculated.    Current law  provides  the Court  to  use the                 
  defendant's gross income  to calculate net daily  income and                 
  essentially  we  are   looking  at  net  daily   income  and                 
  offsetting the number of dependents.                                         
  Senator  Donley  asked if  there  was any  constitutional or                 
  other reason for  the 100 times  the daily income  standard?                 
  Mr.  Christensen  said  that the  law  which  was originally                 
  passed by the Legislature had  suggested that there actually                 
  be  a  large range  and  in  looking at  this  the committee                 
  decided that it needed to be  lowered because it was getting                 
  into the area of excessive fines.  Ultimately it is a policy                 
  call as to  how many days  of income should  be taken for  a                 
  particular  offense.   Senator  Donley  said this  amendment                 
  would put a $4,000 cap on any offense.  Mr. Christensen said                 
  that if someone had enough income they might be getting more                 
  than  $4,000 for a  Class III or V  offense.  Senator Donley                 
  said it appeared that some of  the more serious offenses are                 
  ones  that should  have the flexibility  to go  over $4,000.                 
  $40  seems kind of low to put in a statute because this is a                 
  State that  gives everyone $1,000  a year.   Senators Donley                 
  and Zharoff discuss that  there is a separate  fine schedule                 
  for corporations depending on what type of crime.                            
  Senator Frank and Mr. Christensen  discussed indigency.  Mr.                 
  Christensen  said  that  the   indigency  forms  were  quite                 
  extensive  but  the  Court  could  not  control  determining                 
  income.    There  is  a  difference  and  for  purposes   of                 
  determining indigency for a public  defender one is required                 
  to find out if the person can not afford to pay for a public                 
  defender, which means  not just their  income is looked  at,                 
  but also what  else they might have or what  might be coming                 
  in such  as property.   The  day fines  is just  based on  a                 
  percentage of annual  gross income.   However, it will be  a                 
  more difficult, complicated  and time consuming system.   If                 
  the bill is not going to  do what the Legislature originally                 
  wanted,  which  is  to  bring  in  more  fines  and   reduce                 
  overcrowding is it  worth the   expense to give judges  this                 
  option?  He said  one gets the public defender  for anything                 
  for which one could be sent to jail.                                         
  Co-chairman Halford referred to amendment #1 and there being                 
  NO OBJECTION it was ADOPTED.                                                 
  Senator  Donley  mentioned  that  DWI,  refusal  to  take  a                 
  breathalyzer test, and  some of the  others that would  have                 
  generated the most amount of money and was there some reason                 
  that they could not be included?   Mr. Christensen said that                 
  was a policy call for the  Legislature.  Senator Donley said                 
  it would be appropriate to go back and look at those if that                 
  is what  the Court  System is  saying that  could make  this                 
  work.     The  exclusion   of  those   from  the   statute's                 
  applicability should be looked at.                                           
  Co-chairman Halford said  if that were  to be gone into  the                 
  bottom limit should then be a lot higher that $40.   Senator                 
  Donley  said  the six  categories  that  seemed to  be  more                 
  serious  crimes  could have  a separate  higher range.   Co-                 
  chairman Halford  said that  was the  substance that  really                 
  makes the  bill work.  Day fines could  be paid if they were                 
  high enough except  for one day  that they would have  to go                 
  through  the  process.   Senator  Donley said  the committee                 
  could  dissect  the  fine section  from  the  mandatory time                 
  serving section  and have  the fine  section be  a day  fine                 
  flexible   for  those   without   effecting  the   mandatory                 
  sentencing provisions.                                                       
  Co-chairman Halford said that Senator  Donley should work on                 
  this matter and HELD the bill in committee.                                  

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