State v. Clayton

In State v. Clayton, 584 P.2d 1111 (Alaska 1978) the district court quashed a series of arrest warrants issued when motorists failed to appear for their traffic cases or failed to mail in their fines. The district court ruled that, because the motorists' offenses were merely "infractions" (offenses punishable solely by a fine), (See AS 28.35.230.) their traffic cases were really civil in nature. Thus, the court concluded, the enforcement procedures normally available in criminal cases (such as the issuance of arrest warrants) were not available in the motorists' traffic cases. (See Clayton, 584 P.2d at 1113.) The supreme court disagreed. The court concluded that "a prosecution for a traffic infraction is a quasi-criminal proceeding to which certain criminal procedures including the issuance of warrants are applicable." While acknowledging that the legislature had labeled infractions "non-criminal," the supreme court concluded that the legislature had done this to remove the criminal stigma from traffic offenses but had intended to keep criminal procedures available to the traffic laws. The court ruled that the legislature had "created a class of quasi-criminal offenses which, while they are not serious, are to be disposed of within the criminal justice system." The supreme court noted that there was no express legislative declaration that it intended to affect the traditional use of criminal procedures in traffic cases. Rather, the court concluded that the wording of AS 28.35.230(d) made no change in the "traditional mode of proceeding in criminal matters with the exception of its declaration that a person cited with an infraction does not have a right to trial by jury or to court-appointed counsel." Thus, the supreme court found that the legislature intended to continue to enforce traffic offenses (including "infractions") with all the traditional criminal procedures.