Legislature(1995 - 1996)

04/11/1996 09:50 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.                                       
  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.                                

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