Legislature(1997 - 1998)
03/07/1997 01:32 PM JUD
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SB 3 MINORS' CURFEW VIOLATION HEARD IN DISTRICT COURT SENATOR PEARCE , sponsor of the measure, said SB 3 establishes a uniform approach to handling curfew violations for those communities that wish to enact a curfew ordinance. Recently, the City of Juneau attempted to enact a youth curfew but found no avenue to prosecute offenders. SB 3 mandates that all juvenile curfew violations be handled in District Court, with a parent or legal guardian present during the proceedings. SB 3 will allow for more effective and expeditious handling of these offenses. SENATOR PEARCE added Juneau is fortunate to have Judge Froehlich who has taken it upon himself to spend a great deal of time on youth cases, particularly alcohol and drug offenses. Judge Froehlich estimates about 75 percent of the young people out after Juneau's proposed curfew time are the group who end up as the more serious alcohol, drug and tobacco offenders. He believes communities need all of the tools available to handle youth intervention as early as possible. SENATOR PEARCE explained SB 3 has a fiscal note from the Court System because it calls for court hearings for curfew violators. She noted the Municipality of Anchorage (MOA) has proposed an amendment to allow for a community work option if the offender cannot afford to pay a fine, or if the parents choose not to pay the fine. The amendment is permissive, because a recent court decision requires that a youth offender who is sentenced to a certain amount of community work has the right to a jury trial. She was unsure whether youth courts can be used in place of a jury trial. SENATOR ELLIS asked whether the fiscal note accounts for the amendment. SENATOR PEARCE said she would provide the committee with an updated fiscal note. SENATOR ELLIS asked Mr. Christensen to speak to the assumption in the fiscal note that no municipality will criminalize curfew violations. CHRIS CHRISTENSEN , Alaska Court System, stated last year the MOA adopted an ordinance making curfew violations a civil offense and issued 1500 citations. Those cases are currently being handled by a municipal hearing officer. Offenders have the right to appeal those cases to a court, but a $750 bond is required, and so far there has only been one appeal. Currently cities cannot criminalize curfew violations, because only the Division of Family and Youth Services (DFYS) can prosecute juveniles. SB 3 adds curfew infractions to the list of crimes for which minors can be prosecuted. SB 3 raises two issues: are curfews good public policy; and how will this policy affect the court system. He explained Alaska is one of only five states with a fully unified court system meaning the state courts do everything. Other states have city and county courts. Therefore when municipalities create a crime by ordinance, that crime is prosecuted in the state courts. Sometimes the Legislature has passed laws giving municipalities the right to take actions, and they have done so in a much more expansive way than the Legislature expected. He gave the example of the MOA's authority to enact traffic ordinances and its use of a photo-radar operation which resulted in an increase of 8,000 traffic tickets in one year. Those tickets cannot be paid by mail and require interaction with the court system. No one guessed the fiscal impact MOA's action would have. MR. CHRISTENSEN explained the fiscal note for SB 3 contains a conservative estimate of 3,000 curfew violations, since some of the violators will simultaneously receive an underage drinking ticket. Although SB 3 allows municipalities to treat curfew violations as misdemeanors as well as infractions, he prepared the fiscal note assuming municipalities will not charge curfew offenders with misdemeanors because they will be required to provide a public defender and the court system will have to provide a six person jury. Most infractions are on bail schedules, and most people pay them by mail or at the counter. Also problematic is that SB 3 allows municipalities to demand that curfew offenders make a court appearance, even if the curfew violation is treated as an infraction. He suggested, if it is not the committee's intent to treat curfew violations as misdemeanors and/or to force the offenders to make a court appearance, that SB 3 be amended to read the offenses should be treated as infractions and should be on the municipality's bail schedule. With respect to the court decision (Booth v. State) referred to by Senator Pearce, a 1995 appeal was based on a law authorizing judges to impose mandatory work service for felonies and misdemeanors, but not for infractions. The Booth decision requires if the sentence for a crime is mandatory, not optional, community service, the person has the right to a jury trial and a public defender. Number 153 SENATOR PEARCE clarified on page 1, line 18 of the amendment, community service is clearly provided as an option. SENATOR ELLIS asked Senator Pearce if it is her intent to require offenders to make a court appearance. SENATOR PEARCE believed it best to have the option to require a court appearance if those involved feel it will be useful for a particular child to go before a judge. It has had a positive impact in Juneau. Number 123 SENATOR ELLIS questioned whether a municipality would have to apply the same policy to all offenders, or whether offenders could be treated differently based on circumstances. MR. CHRISTENSEN replied a municipality could choose to, for example, put first offenders on a bail schedule, and have second offenders make a court appearance. He repeated the court system's fiscal note is based on the assumption that all municipalities will not require a court appearance, so it contains a conservative estimate. He added with infractions on the bail schedule, the court sees only about one-third of the offenders. SENATOR PEARCE stated her intent is to provide another tool for local governments, and she hopes they would not throw all cases into the court system, but instead would take advantage of this tool for second offenders. She said she is open to ideas as to how to best accomplish that goal. She felt the court system's fiscal note is not outrageous, especially if SB 3 keeps one minor out of jail for one year. SENATOR ELLIS noted his support of the amendment, but inquired whether it was requested by the Anchorage Assembly. SENATOR PEARCE responded it was not. Assemblyman Murdy expressed support of the bill but she introduced it in response to Juneau's situation. Assemblyman Murdy requested that community work be an option because in some instances parents refuse to pay the fine and there is no way to force the child to do anything as an alternative. Number 076 SENATOR ELLIS asked if it is safe to assume the Anchorage Assembly has no objection to the approach in SB 3. SENATOR PEARCE said no one has expressed objection. She added she has had no indication that the MOA will rush to criminalize curfew violations. SENATOR ELLIS questioned whether a parent will be compelled to be present during a court hearing under SB 3. MR. CHRISTENSEN said the language in the bill regarding the presence of parents is in existing law. It is current practice with minor traffic violations, among others, but does cause problems because cases often have to be held over because someone cannot attend. Number 046 SENATOR ELLIS asked for more detail on the practical application of that provision. MR. CHRISTENSEN offered to provide Senator Ellis with more information at a later date. TAPE 97-18, SIDE A Number 000 STEVEN GRUENSTEIN , representing Guardians for Family Rights, testified in favor of SB 3. Teenagers need limits, quick consequences, and early intervention, when they step out of line. SB 3 will prevent jail time in many cases. He supports the community service option and a system with teeth. SENATOR MILLER offered Amendment 1. There being no objection to the adoption of Amendment 1, it was so ordered. SENATOR PEARCE repeated her willingness to entertain suggestions for improvements or alternatives to SB 3, but stated her belief that early intervention is less costly than incarceration. SENATOR PARNELL moved SB 3 as amended from committee with individual recommendations. There being no objection, the motion carried.