Governor Sean Parnell today announced that he will present the Legislature with four bills related to his 10-year plan to end the scourge of domestic violence and sexual assault in Alaska.
"Last month, I promised Alaskans that we would take every step necessary to move this state out of our shameful first-place ranking among the states in this terrible category," Governor Parnell said. "This legislation won't solve the problem on its own, but these are important steps we must pursue, even as we take action in the executive branch and urge our civic leaders to spread the message that epidemic rates of domestic violence and sexual assault must be ended."
The bills are:
* Changes in crimes and sentences involving sexual assault and domestic violence. The bill would prohibit suspended imposition of sentences for people convicted of human trafficking, possession or distribution of child pornography, and distribution of indecent materials to minors. It would be against the law not just to possess child pornography but also to access it on a computer with the intention of viewing it. Courts could prohibit sex offenders, in cases involving children, from using a computer or communicating with children under 16 years old.
Sentences for sex offenses could be increased through new "aggravating factors," including the defendant's knowledge that the victim had consumed drugs or alcohol, or a previous dating relationship with the victim. Anyone required to register as a sex offender in another state would have to register in Alaska.
* A revision of bail laws. This bill would make a presumption -- that could be overcome with a preponderance of evidence -- that defendants accused of serious crimes such as felony sexual assault are a danger to the community and to the victims, and that bail should be set appropriately. This also would apply to a defendant charged with domestic violence who has been convicted of domestic violence within the five preceding years. Once convicted of sex-related felonies, perpetrators could not be released pending sentencing or an appeal. The bill also allows more time before a defendant's first appearance in court for the police to investigate and for the prosecutor to make a better-informed charging decision, present stronger bail arguments, and contact the victim so that the victim may be present at the bail hearing.
* Specific procedures for post-conviction DNA testing. This bill establishes detailed procedures for the post-conviction testing of DNA to determine whether a person was wrongly convicted. The bill requires municipal police departments, courts and state agencies to retain DNA evidence for post-conviction testing and cold case prosecution. A court could order testing if the right to testing was not waived at trial for tactical reasons, and if there is "a reasonable probability" that the test would conclusively establish innocence.
* The Alaska Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory in Anchorage. As part of the capital budget, the state would issue $75 million in certificates of participation for the lab in order to expedite the processing of a large backlog of evidence in criminal cases. Using certificates of participation spreads the cost out over time so that both this generation of Alaskans and the next will help pay for this important facility and reap its benefits.
"This legislation clearly will enhance protections for Alaskans," said Attorney General Dan Sullivan. "We need to use every tool at our disposal to punish and deter the perpetrators of these horrific crimes. At the same time, it's important that safeguards in our system ensure fair trials."
The Department of Law is implementing prosecutorial guidelines that, among other things, prohibit any plea agreements that would allow perpetrators to escape being placed on the state's sex offender registry.
Attorney General Sullivan also has hired a cyber-crime prosecutor to assist in the prosecution of computer-aided crimes, especially distribution of child pornography. Marika Athens, who has been an assistant district attorney in Anchorage, began her new position in the Department of Law on Tuesday. She is the first department official dedicated to prosecuting cyber crimes.