Legislature(1995 - 1996)

04/29/1995 02:30 PM JUD

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
txt
         SB 167 DAY FINES & INFO FOR COLLECTING FINES                         
                                                                              
 CHRIS CHRISTENSEN, general counsel to the Alaska Court System,                
 explained last year the legislature passed legislation authorizing            
 courts to impose day fines for certain misdemeanor offenses.  A day           
 fine is based on the person's annual income.  In the course of                
 implementing this law, certain problems became apparent.  Some of             
 the problems can be rectified by simple amendments to the original            
 law, however other problems are more fundamental.  SB 167 addresses           
 the more technical difficulties, not the fundamental problems.                
                                                                               
 TAPE 95-27, SIDE B                                                            
                                                                               
 MR. CHRISTENSEN replied SB 167 contains technical changes to the              
 law to make it more workable, however the law still contains                  
 fundamental problems.  The legislature's intent in passing the law            
 was to decrease the number of misdemeanor offenders serving jail              
 time, and to increase fine collection rates.  Two problems have               
 occurred.  First, the day fines law excludes most of the                      
 misdemeanor offenses for which people now serve jail time.  About             
 90 percent of the people sent to jail serve time for six offenses:            
 DWI; refusal to take a breath test; driving with a suspended                  
 license; driving with a revoked license; misdemeanor assault; and             
 violation of a domestic violence restraining order.  All six of               
 those crimes are specifically excluded from the day fines law, and            
 it is unlikely that jail sentences for those crimes will be                   
 eliminated by the legislature.                                                
                                                                               
 SENATOR TAYLOR questioned the benefit to modifying some of the                
 mandatory sentences to provide for electronic monitoring, coupled             
 with a day fine, as opposed to serving jail time.                             
                                                                               
 MR. CHRISTENSEN felt there were underlying problems with the                  
 concept that would take some time to work through.  He discussed a            
 second problem with the current law.  Judges are unlikely to order            
 the payment of a day fine if the judge does not believe the person            
 will pay the day fine.  In reviewing the state's collection                   
 practices, the day fines committee discovered that current fine               
 collection rates are extremely low and believes the program will              
 not be widely used until the Department of Law receives additional            
 collection tools.  The federal court system is studying the                   
 possibility of preventing a person from renewing a state license              
 until criminal fines are paid.                                                
                                                                               
 Number 560                                                                    
                                                                               
 MR. CHRISTENSEN discussed a third fundamental problem pertains to             
 the fine amounts that result from the day fines formula.  The                 
 legislature directed that class A misdemeanors be subject to up to            
 365 day units, a day unit being one day of a person's salary.  When           
 trying to determine a reasonable fine, the committee decreased the            
 amount to 45 day units, yet even at that level some fines are                 
 extreme.                                                                      
                                                                               
 The fourth area of concern, described by MR. CHRISTENSEN, is about            
 fish and game misdemeanor offenses.  The day fines committee                  
 excluded those offenses from its report to prevent the imposition             
 of another layer of complexity to the existing problems.  The                 
 sentencing structure for fish and game offenses is unclear, and               
 contains many different penalty provisions, and many offense                  
 definitions overlap.  The day fines committee recommended that the            
 legislature appoint a special committee or interagency group to               
 assess and restructure fish and game penalty provisions and                   
 definitions of offenses.                                                      
                                                                               
 SENATOR TAYLOR agreed the legislature needs to make a policy                  
 decision on the fundamental issues raised.  He asked Mr.                      
 Christensen if he believed the bill would be of significant benefit           
 to the court system, even though it is only technical in nature, in           
 light of the late session date.                                               
                                                                               
 Number 512                                                                    
                                                                               
 MR. CHRISTENSEN believed if the technical changes are made, the               
 Supreme Court would send the issue back to the day fines committee            
 to see if implementation is possible.                                         
                                                                               
 SENATOR TAYLOR announced he would hold the bill in committee to               
 give members further opportunity for review.  He added it could be            
 moved out of committee quickly, if necessary.                                 
                                                                               
 SENATOR GREEN asked if the sliding fee scale was a common approach            
 to fine assessment.  MR. CHRISTENSEN answered it is a common                  
 approach in Europe, and a few American jurisdictions have started             
 to use it.  He explained the theory is that large fines can be as             
 much of a deterrent to criminal behavior as the threat of a very              
 short jail sentence.  Traditionally fines are imposed without                 
 regard to a person's income, and are generally low.  This approach            
 looks to a person's income to supposedly provide equity in the                
 system.                                                                       

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