Legislature(1995 - 1996)
04/11/1996 09:50 AM FIN
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= 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. Co-chairman Halford directed that SB 167 be brought on for discussion and noted that Senator Donley had been working on the bill since the previous hearing. Senator Donley referenced Amendment No. 4 and reiterated inherent problems with earlier passed legislation, relating to day fines, which made it inapplicable to high volume crimes such as drunk driving, driving without a license, etc. He explained that those particular crimes were not covered by earlier legislation because they require mandatory jail time. The concept of day fines is that they serve as a substitute for jail. To address the problem and increase revenues, the day fine concept must be changed to create a flexible fine apart from mandatory jail time. Amendment No. 4 expands the scope of day fines to include all misdemeanors and run parallel to misdemeanors that require jail as well. Those convicted of drunk driving would continue to serve the mandatory three days in jail, but the fine assessed against them would be flexible, based on the offender's income. The amendment sets parameters for fines between $50.00 and $25,000.00 for a class-A misdemeanor; and $50.00 to $5,000.00 for a class-B misdemeanor. The maximum for a felony is $50,000.00. CHRIS CHRISTENSEN, General Counsel, Alaska Court System, came before committee. He explained that the proposed amendment would not resolve problems with earlier day fines legislation, due to difficulty in collecting fines and incarceration of offenders. The purpose of day fines is to reduce the number of people going to jail and the resulting overcrowding. The proposed amendment does not do that since mandatory jail terms would continue to be served. Further, the fine collection unit within the Dept. of Law does not have adequate resources to collect fines. That will not be changed by the proposed amendment. Additional problems with the bill turn it from a potential money maker to a money loser. The day fine was to be a substitute for jail. Imposing both jail and the day fine, in effect, doubles the penalty for the crime. Increased penalties have historically resulted in increased trial rates. At the present time, only 10 percent of felonies and misdemeanors go to trial. In the 1970s when the Dept. of Law abolished plea bargaining, the trial rate doubled in the first year and tripled in the second. While continuing its ban on plea bargaining, the department thereafter began engaging in "charge bargaining." When presumptive sentencing laws were enacted, the trial rate also increased. A further problem is associated with the fact that day fines apply to state misdemeanors but not municipal ordinances. Most of the offenses to be covered by the new bill have equivalent municipal ordinances. The legislation would thus double the penalty for an offender apprehended by a trooper while the penalty would remain unchanged for those charged for the same offense by a municipality. A serious equal protection problem will be created. Mr. Christensen reiterated that while Amendment No. 4 attempts to address a problem, it does not solve overcrowding and collection problems. It also creates potential for substantial new costs to the state through dramatically increased trial rates. Senator Donley countered the suggestion that increased penalties would increase the number of trials by advising that the penalty will only be substantially increased if the offender is in the upper income level. These are the individual who presently have the ability to litigate. Further, language could be added to the amendment to make the law applicable to municipal ordinances as well. Mr. Christensen advised that the six offenses are of a level where they would involve the maximum day fine. For a typical defendant, that would be 30 days of disposal income. That would be a substantial "hammer." The bill would not only impact a small percentage of wealthy offenders but all offenders equally. Comments followed by Senator Rieger regarding application of numbers set forth on the court system's income conversion chart. He noted that since the day fine is based on income, there is great disparity between what is paid by individual offenders convicted of the same crime. One individual could pay 100 times more than another. Under the proposed amendment, that disparity would widen to 500 times. The range is too great. Equal protection becomes a factor. Co- chairman Halford suggested that a 10 to 1 ratio would probably be appropriate. Senator Donley voiced need to provide a sufficient deterrent. Co-chairman Halford suggested that two issues are involved: The first is a day fine approach that replaces jail time. The other is day fines that supplement incarceration. He suggested that $1,500 and three days as well as $5,000 for ten days would provide a deterrent. Senator Rieger voiced his understanding that earlier discussion involved expanded application of day fines to misdemeanor crimes against people and those involving alcohol. He noted that misdemeanors are often not prosecuted because offenses do not involve jail, jails are overcrowded, and prosecutors are too busy. The intent of day fines was to provide a practical means of prosecution and accrual of revenue. Discussion followed regarding application of day fines to DWI offenses. Co-chairman Halford voiced a willingness to change incarceration requirements for two-thirds of the required sentence (because of costs to the system) as long as the day fine serves as strong a deterrent to the offender. He suggested that the judge be allowed to level the penalty that imposes the maximum deterrent effect on a particular offender. A day in jail and a substantial fine are likely to be as effective as the present three days served at a half-way house. Senator Donley acknowledged difficulties associated with the day fines issue. He suggested that if mandatory sentences are to be reduced and day fines substituted, groups with strong interests in mandatory sentences should be contacted and involved. Co-chairman Halford agreed and asked that Senator Donley propose the foregoing suggestions to those groups. The bill was thus held in committee.