Fines and imprisonment

As I’ve been skimming the DC Code, I’ve started keeping track of provisions that call for “a fine of no more than $387 or imprisonment for not longer than 14 days, or both.” Numbers obviously changed to protect the innocent. Mostly I want to explore the inconsistencies, see what is simply out of date and what reflects priorities, whether good or bad.

Then there’s the occasional head shake, such as DC Code 5-121.03 which calls for a fine of no more than $500 or imprisonment for not longer than “11 months and 29 days.”

But what I want to call to your attention today is an inconsistency that I can’t make heads or tails of. It is DC Code § 7-704.01, which discusses issues related to the long-term care ombudsman. There are three different violations discussed in this section of the Code. Two of them carry a fine of up to $1000 or imprisonment up to 180 days. The third carries a larger fine ($1500) and a much shorter maximum imprisonment (30 days).

I can see how things like that happen when they are in completely separate laws. And in this case, the two $1000/180 day violations were added 22 years after the law was originally passed, so one could claim that they didn’t have the third violation and its penalties in front of them while they were drafting. Not likely. I’ve drafted legislation. You really can’t draft amendments without having in front of you what’s currently in effect. So why not make the the fines/imprisonment consistent? Not necessarily the same, but proportional. Roughly proportional.

Your ideas?

(I have two. The first is carelessness. The second is that it has something to do with criminal laws in DC have a different Congressional review period and possibly other differences in procedure, so amending the original violation was too difficult.)

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