"Restricting the authority of a court to suspend execution of a sentence or grant probation in prosecutions for driving while under the influence and prosecutions for refusal to submit to a chemical test; and allowing a court to suspend up to 75 percent of the minimum fines required for driving while under the influence and for refusal to submit to a chemical test if the defendant successfully completes a court-ordered treatment program. "
"It has been brought to my attention that judges, under the authority of a 1992 Alaska Court of Appeals decision (Curtis v. State), are often suspending the fines that the Legislature has specifically set out in statute."
- Rep. Rokeberg
The Legislature believes in the effectiveness of therapeutic courts. Anchorage and Bethel have active therapeutic courts, and various other Alaska communities - Ketchikan, Juneau and Fairbanks - are currently working to establish these courts at the misdemeanor level. I introduced HB 136 in order to provide additional statutory assistance to the operations of therapeutic courts around the state.
Specifically, HB 136 expands the court-ordered treatment programs, i.e. "Wellness Courts," to felony DUI defendants. The statutory authority for these courts can be found under AS 28.35.030 and AS 28.35.032. There are several reasons for doing this:
Opening therapeutic courts to felons would increase public protection from DUI crimes. The success of the 18-month "court-ordered treatment" system created by the Legislature is demonstrated by data that shows that over a three-year period, only 25% of graduates have had any repeat offenses. This is in stark contrast to the 75% of DUI offenders who repeat after serving their time in jail.
It creates economies of scale if the newly established DUI Wellness Courts are open to both felony and misdemeanor DUI cases.
This is an opportune time to extend the DUI/Wellness Court model. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has made funding of this type of court a priority.
In addition to expanding the therapeutic court provisions to felony DUI offenders, HB 136 gives a judge the ability to reward a graduating DUI offender by suspending 75% of the mandatory fine. This amount is increased from the present 50%. Currently, Wellness Court participants pay for most of their own treatment. This is a very costly requirement over the course of the required 18-month program. Allowing the judge to reduce mandatory fines will increase the incentive for defendants to enter a Wellness Court.
Lastly, HB 136 requires that misdemeanant and felony DUI offenders, who are not participants in a court-ordered treatment program, must pay the minimum fines provided in statute. It has been brought to my attention that judges, under the authority of a 1992 Alaska Court of Appeals decision (Curtis v. State), are often suspending the fines that the Legislature has specifically set out in statute. HB 136 overrides this decision and makes it absolutely clear to the courts that these defendants must pay the minimum fines.