Assembly again asks Legislature to fix pretrial system
The Anchorage Assembly is reiterating a call for action by state lawmakers on Alaska’s troubled pretrial bail system, saying it has compromised public safety in the state’s largest city.
West Anchorage Assembly member Eric Croft, chair of the Assembly’s Public Safety Committee, said the body initially sent a March 21 letter he sent to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees.
That letter, signed by all Assembly members save Eagle River’s Amy Demboski, cited two high-profile suspects – Shane Muse and Jessica Malcolm, arrested on vehicle theft and weapons-misconduct charges respectively – released under Senate Bill 91 as examples of cases in which courts have been forced to ignore Outside criminal records for first-time Alaska offenders.
“If you would like other examples of the serious public safety risks posed by ignoring out-of-state convictions in bail determinations, we would be happy to provide them,” Assembly members wrote.
To address the problem, the Assembly urged lawmakers to advance a set of companion bills, House Bill 295 and Senate Bill 150, which would give judges more discretion in matters involving pretrial release.
On Friday, Croft said that the letter didn’t gain much traction with members of the committees, despite 10 of the Assembly’s 11 members signing it. He said the only member not to do so, Eagle River’s Amy Demboski, wasn’t at a Public Safety Committee hearing on domestic-violence prosecutions where Croft circulated the letter to be signed.
Demboski said Friday that she had since signed the letter as well, emphasizing her opposition to SB 91 in its entirety.
"Do I think these two bills are going to fix SB 91? No," Demboski said. "SB 91 needs to be repealed, but the pretrial assessment tool is clearly broken."
Croft – who has served as both a prosecutor and a state representative – added that the cases mentioned in the letter weren’t the only two available to the Assembly.
“Frankly, we could get ‘em 20 more examples and prosecutors have been giving me more,” Croft said. “This is a really dangerous problem – letting people out we know to be dangerous, just because SB 91 says they can’t look at out-of-state convictions.”
On Thursday, Croft opened his message up to all 60 lawmakers in the state House and Senate, emailing them the letter along with a renewed plea for help because at the Legislature’s current pace, “it seems unlikely either bill will pass.”
“As an individual Alaskan resident, I think this is important,” Croft wrote. “As a former prosecutor, I am particularly concerned about a loophole that forces judges to let dangerous criminals walk out of their courtrooms. As a parent, I am worried about what those dangerous criminals might do when set free. As representative on the Assembly for over 50,000 Alaska residents, I know this is important to my constituents too.”
House Judiciary member Rep. Charisse Millett (R-Anchorage) sent a Tweet emphasizing the Assembly’s message on Thursday.
So far, Croft said he has received “very supportive” responses so far from lawmakers, with no real defenses of retaining the status quo – a unified response matching the Assembly's.
“I think it is newsworthy when basically the entire Assembly speaks,” Croft said. “I think it’s newsworthy when it’s bipartisan.”
Croft and Assembly Chair Dick Traini plan to introduce a resolution formalizing the Assembly’s support for the judicial-discretion bills on Tuesday when members meet to certify this month’s municipal election.
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