The crime bill passed this year by the Alaska Legislature changed things in a major way for the state’s prosecutors, said Angie Kemp, Juneau’s district attorney, during Thursday’s chamber luncheon.
House Bill 49, which mostly went into effect last month, essentially rolled things back to how they were before Senate Bill 91, the comprehensive criminal reform bill signed by former Gov. Bill Walker in 2016.
The newer crime bill, which passed both chambers with widespread bipartisan support, generally means harsher sentences for offenders and is a piece with Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s “war on criminals.” Kemp said the bill could be a boon to prosecutors.
“If I sounded disappointed, I’m not,” Kemp said after her remarks. “This legislation is certainly helpful to us as far as reinvesting resources and will be beneficial to us with the prosecution of cases. Whether we’re talking about drug offenses or thefts or what have you, it’s certainly steps in the right direction.”
Drug laws were one area of major change, Kemp said.
Under the new crime bill, Kemp said drug possession is treated almost the same as it was before the 2016 bill, with the exception that first-time possession is a Class A misdemeanor that is punishable by up to a year in jail.
“If there is a second conviction within 10 years, then it is legally punishable as a Class C felony offense,” Kemp said.
During the presentation, Kemp was asked if she’s seen crime increase since Alaska voted in 2014 to legalize recreational use of marijuana.
“No, but I think one of the things that’s under-appreciated is driving impaired because we don’t have a set legal limit here in Alaska,” Kemp said. “I can’t say as it related to other crimes — property crimes and things like that — that there is a direct nexus that I can see.”
She said misuse of drugs, such as heroin and methamphetamines, do factor into a lot of cases.
“One thing that they did that I suspect most of you who have businesses or are in the community generally will find helpful is they created a new crime that if in a six-month period — let’s say a suspect goes to Fred Meyer and steals $100 worth of goods eight times — if they do that there’s a separate provision that allows us to combine those amounts into a C felony.”
Kemp is also pleased by changes to how parole and probation work under the crime bill.
“One of the things that I b*tched and moaned about was the impact that folks often didn’t appreciate to the back end of offenses,” Kemp said. “Early termination (of probation) under SB 91 was required under certain provisions, so if offenders had met certain requirements, probation officers were required to submit to a judge a letter requesting that their probation be terminated.”
That’s no longer the case, which Kemp said means she can share information with victims and their families with more confidence.
“They always have the question, ‘How long is this person going to be in custody? How long are they going to be on probation,’” Kemp said. “After they passed SB 91, it became somewhat challenging to answer those.”
• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.