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PARRISH v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

September 10, 1998

ROBERT LEE PARRISH, APPELLANT,
V.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, APPELLEE.



APPEAL FROM THE SUPERIOR COURT, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, TIM MURPHY, J.

Before Terry, Schwelb, and Farrell, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terry, Associate Judge.

On April 15, 1997, appellant Parrish pleaded guilty to a charge of drinking in public. *fn1 He was sentenced to thirty days in jail and was ordered to pay $50 to the Crime Victims' Compensation Fund. His sole contention on appeal is that the trial court erred in imposing the $50 assessment. He offers two alternative arguments. First, he maintains that the Victims of Violent Crime Compensation Act of 1996 does not apply to persons convicted of non-serious misdemeanors, such as drinking in public; second, he asserts that judges may waive its provisions and in the past have done so. We reject both arguments and affirm the $50 assessment.

I

The Victims of Violent Crime Compensation Act of 1981 ("the 1981 Act"), D.C.Code §§ 3-401 through 3-415 (1994), created a compensation program for victims of violent crime in the District of Columbia. *fn2 The program's [718 A2d Page 134]

resources were entrusted to the Crime Victims' Compensation Fund ("CVCF"), at that time administered by the Mayor through his designee, the Department of Employment Services ("DOES"). The CVCF was funded primarily by assessments on persons convicted of crimes in the District of Columbia. In particular, D.C.Code § 3-414 (1994) provided in part:

In addition to and separate from any punishment imposed, a cost of at least $20 and not more than $500 for each felony charge, and a cost of $10 for each misdemeanor charge, shall be imposed upon each person convicted of or pleading guilty or nolo contendere to such charge in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia ("Court"). The amount of costs assessed under this section for felonies shall be determined by the courts on the basis of the estimated severity of the injury or loss caused by the crime. The decision of the Court regarding costs shall be final. . . . All such costs shall be payable to the District of Columbia Treasurer for deposit to the credit of the Crime Victims' Compensation Fund.

The 1981 Act did not contain any language allowing judges to waive its apparently mandatory assessments. However, "[s]ome of the judges at the D.C. Superior Court admitted that they were skeptical of the program and whether money was actually reaching the many victims who needed it. As a result, many judges did not consistently impose or collect the applicable fines needed to fund the program." COUNCIL OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, REPORT ON BILL 11-657, THE "VICTIMS OF VIOLENT CRIME COMPENSATION ACT OF 1981 AMENDMENT ACT OF 1996," at 3 (September 26, 1996) (hereinafter REPORT).

After DOES suspended the program on July 5, 1996, for lack of funding, *fn3 the Council passed the Victims of Violent Crime Compensation Emergency Act of 1996, which temporarily repealed D.C.Code §§ 3-401 through 3-415. *fn3 Shortly thereafter, the Victims of Violent Crime Compensation Act of 1996 ("VVCCA" or "the 1996 Act") was enacted, permanently repealing sections 3-401 through 3-415 and creating a new system for compensating crime victims. That statute became effective on April 9, 1997, *fn3 and is codified at D.C.Code §§ 3-421 through 3-438 (1998 Supp.).

The general purpose behind the 1996 Act was to redesign the program so that it would be more effective in compensating crime victims. First, the new statute removed operational responsibility from the Mayor and placed it in the Superior Court. D.C.Code § 3-423 (1998 Supp.). Second, it made certain administrative changes designed to protect more effectively the rights of crime victims, including, inter alia, increasing the maximum amount payable to victims, creating a Crime Victims Compensation Appeals Board, and lengthening the time limit for filing a claim. REPORT at 5. Finally, the 1996 Act increased the assessments imposed on persons convicted of crimes. *fn4 On December 12, 1996, William Erhardt, Director of the Legal Assistance Branch of the Superior Court, sent a memorandum to all Superior Court judges and hearing commissioners outlining the new schedule of assessments. Mr. Erhardt specifically advised judges and commissioners [718 A2d Page 135]

that the assessments were not waivable, noting that "[t]here are provisions under the new legislation and elsewhere for collection of assessments from defendants who are sentenced to terms of incarceration while they are serving their sentences and after release on parole."

II

D.C.Code § 3-436 (1998 Supp.), the statute at issue in this case, provides in part:

(a) In addition to and separate from punishment imposed, an assessment of $100 for each violation of ยง 40-716, an assessment of between $50 and $250 for other serious traffic or misdemeanor offenses, and an assessment of between $100 and $5,000 for each felony offense shall be imposed upon each person convicted of or pleading guilty or nolo contendere to the offense in the Superior Court of ...


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