House approves victims' rights bill

Posted: Friday, April 14, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- Crime victims would have an easier time recovering stolen property under a bill approved 40-0 by the House on Thursday.

House Bill 336, introduced by Gov. Tony Knowles, simplifies procedures for theft victims to recover property in police possession after recovery from a pawn shop or a secondhand dealer.

Under current law, which mirrors federal statutes, victims must initiate formal legal proceedings to recover property.

''You basically have to file a lawsuit,'' said Rep. Lisa Murkowski, R-Anchorage.

HB 336 would allow victims to file a petition in state court that's supported with an affidavit. No filing fee would be required. Pawn shop owners could file a response and ownership could be decided based on the information in the affidavits, though either side could request a hearing.

The bill makes four other changes designed to assist victims, including a potential sentencing break to defendants who quickly plead guilty. If a person pleads guilty within 30 days after being charged, judges could consider that a mitigating factor for a presumptive sentence.

Murkowski said a quick plea relieves victims of some suffering during drawn-out court procedures.

''The purpose of this is to essentially decrease the burden that's related to the trial process,'' Murkowski said.

The bill makes it a misdemeanor to violate a protective injunction in child in need of aid proceedings. In cases of abuse or neglect, parents or caretakers may be ordered to stay away from their children, but no penalty for violating the order is now on the books, Murkowski said.

The Department of Law estimates a dozen people would be convicted annually under the new law.

The bill allows domestic violence protective orders from other states to be enforced in Alaska even if they haven't been formally registered here.

The bill also further limits civil compromises. Current law allows people charged with misdemeanors that harm people or property to enter into a civil compromise by agreeing to pay the victim for personal costs, such as medical expenses or property damages. The court can dismiss charges, even if the prosecution objects.

Compromises are not allowed between spouses, former spouses, common-law spouses and people living together as family members. HB 366 extends the ban on civil compromise to all domestic violence crimes, including abuse by roommates.

The bill now moves to the Senate.



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