Appeal from the Superior Court, Third Judicial District, Palmer, David L. Zwink, Judge. Trial Court No. 3PA-10-3464 CR.
Kelly Taylor, Assistant Public Defender, and Quinlan Steiner, Public Defender, Anchorage, for the Appellant.
Mary A. Gilson, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Special Prosecutions and Appeals, Anchorage, and Michael C. Geraghty, Attorney General, Juneau, for the Appellee.
Before: Mannheimer, Chief Judge, Allard, Judge, and Hanley, District Court Judge.[*]
Linden Karl Fyfe was charged with felony driving under the influence based, in part, on a Datamaster test showing that his blood alcohol level was .117 percent. At trial Fyfe raised the defense of necessity, arguing that his driving was justified because his girlfriend's daughter had been rushed to the hospital after an apparent seizure. The jury rejected that defense and convicted Fyfe.
The superior court sentenced Fyfe to 20 months with 16 months suspended. The court also imposed a $20,000 fine -- double the mandatory minimum fine for felony driving under the influence -- based on the State's allegation that the offense took place in a traffic safety corridor.
Fyfe contends that the $20,000 fine is illegal. He argues that the legislature did not intend to require courts to impose a double fine for felony driving under the influence in a traffic safety corridor. Based on the legislative history of the statute, we agree and therefore vacate Fyfe's $20,000 fine. Because the sentencing judge's remarks make clear that he would have imposed the $10,000 mandatory minimum fine for Fyfe's offense if he believed he had the discretion to do so, we direct the superior court to modify the judgment to reflect this mandatory minimum fine.
Fyfe also argues that his Sixth Amendment right to confront the witnesses against him was violated because the court allowed the State to introduce reports verifying the calibration of the Datamaster machine used for his breath test even though Fyfe had no opportunity to cross-examine the author of the reports. Fyfe concedes that the admission of these hearsay reports was authorized under our decision in Abyo v. State, but he argues that Abyo and the cases that follow it should be overruled. We decline to overrule Abyo and find no violation of Fyfe's confrontation rights.
Why we conclude that the legislature did not intend AS 28.90.030(a) to double the range of fines for felony driving under the influence
Under AS 28.90.030(a), a person is subject to a double fine if the person " violates a provision of [Title 28] or a regulation adopted under the authority of [Title 28] within a ... traffic safety corridor."  This provision, on its face, would seem to mandate a double fine for any driving under the influence offense committed in a traffic safety corridor because the offense of driving under the influence is a provision of Title 28. However, the plain meaning of a statute does not necessarily control in Alaska:
In interpreting a statute, we look to the plain meaning of the statute, the legislative purpose, and the intent of the statute. We have declined to mechanically apply the plain meaning rule when interpreting statutes, adopting instead a sliding scale approach: The plainer the statutory language is, the more convincing the evidence of contrary legislative purpose or intent must be. We apply this sliding scale approach even if a statute is facially unambiguous.
In Johnnie v. State, an unpublished case, we assumed that the double-fine requirement in AS 28.90.030(a) applied to a person convicted of driving under the influence. But the issue was not actually litigated in that case: Johnnie did not contest that he would be subject to a double fine if his offense occurred in a traffic safety corridor; instead, he contested the trial court's finding that he admitted, as part of his plea agreement, that his offense occurred within a traffic safety corridor. Consequently, the scope of the double-fine requirement in AS 28.90.030(a) is a question of first impression for this Court.
The 1998 legislature intended the double-fine requirement to apply to traffic offenses
Alaska Statute 28.90.030(a) has its origins in a statute enacted in 1999, former AS 28.40.070, which required double fines for " offenses committed within highway work zones."  The legislation that created that statute appears to have been first introduced in ...