Governor takes 'tough on crime' position

Measure would reduce plea bargaining and lengthen sentences

Posted: Friday, April 04, 2003

Gov. Frank Murkowski outlined a crime package Thursday that calls for fewer plea bargains for child predators, a crackdown on bootleggers, and tightening the state's self-defense laws.

"We want the criminals to get the message that they will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. We're through fooling around in this state," Murkowski said.

The Republican governor is introducing legislation to lengthen sentences for multiple crimes, make it more difficult to claim self-defense, change immunity rules, and allow courts to consider prior convictions during trials.

Murkowski also endorsed GOP bills before the Legislature this session to threaten bootleggers with forfeiture, make Medicaid fraud easier to prosecute, and expand the state's DNA database.

The governor threw his support behind bills that revoke driver's licenses for some fatal crashes, crack down on Internet harassment, and create an electronic database for pawn-shop items.

Attorney General Gregg Renkes also plans to issue a directive to state prosecutors that no plea bargains will be offered in cases of child sexual assault without his approval, he said.

Each year, state prosecutors handle about 150 such cases and there have been complaints that too many end in plea bargains, Renkes said.

Often factors such as overcrowded prisons or the cost of locking people up can affect decisions on individual cases, Renkes said.

"When it comes to protecting children, we just aren't going to let these other considerations cloud our judgment or affect our decisions," Renkes said.

Sen. Hollis French, an Anchorage Democrat, is a former prosecutor. He said the assistant attorney general for the criminal division already reviewed plea agreements in which a sex crime would be reduced to a non-sex crime.

In addition, prosecutors feel pressure to reduce high caseloads, and victims frequently are willing to settle to avoid the cost and stress of a trial, French said.

"He's going to have his hands full," French said.

The state Department of Law also is pursuing federal funding to step up prosecution efforts in rural Alaska and in cases of domestic violence and sexual assault.

A $2.4 million grant would allow the state to create a rural prosecution unit in Anchorage to assist district attorneys in Bush Alaska, Renkes said.

A $4.4 million grant would allow the state to create special domestic violence and sexual-assault prosecution units in Anchorage, Palmer, Kenai and Fairbanks, he said.



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