Legislature(1995 - 1996)
03/22/1996 09:20 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." 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.