By Dave Donaldson
The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska is asking the court system to stop enforcement of a law that went into effect today redefining the court system’s conditions to grant bail to some people charged with felonies.
The bill passed the legislature during this year’s session – and was quickly signed into law by the governor in May. The comprehensive bill was described at the time as a change to statutes that had not been updated in more than forty years and – according the governor – “would protect all Alaskans, and particularly many of our most vulnerable friends and neighbors.
The ACLU’s executive director, Jeffrey Mittman, in the legal complaint that will be heard in court tomorrow, says the law doesn’t conform with the national idea of a person being presumed innocent before convicted. He says it also doesn’t take into account Alaska’s own Constitution that has a provision guaranteeing a “right to bail.”
What this bail bill does is it completely ignores the Constitution. It sets up rules that violate the right to constitution. It violates the right to privacy. It violates the right to due process. And because of these constitutional issues, it’s important to the ACLU to challenge this on behalf of criminal defendants who, at their bail hearings, would not be able to raise these sorts of issues.
The state, however, says the new statute does not go beyond either the state or U-S Constitution. Deputy Attorney General for the Criminal Division Rick Svobodny says it was carefully written to keep within those limits. He says that having a right to bail allows the legislature to set the criteria for setting that bail. He also says that the statute does not restrict a given right.
A judge, just as has always been the case since statehood – before statehood – has the right and the authority to set the conditions of bail. The court needs to set bail that is reasonable – to assure a person’s appearance and to protect society.
The merits of the case will be argued in Anchorage Superior Court tomorrow morning where the ACLU will ask for a temporary restraining order to stop the bill’s implementation.