Articles Posted in Alaska Supreme Court

by
Conar Groppel was charged with first- and second-degree murder, manslaughter, first- and second-degree arson, first-degree criminal mischief, first-degree burglary, and evidence tampering. Groppel notified the superior court he intended to rely on the defense of diminished capacity, and pursuant to AS 12.47.070(a) the court was required to appoint at least two qualified psychiatrists or board-certified forensic psychologists to examine him and report upon his mental condition. Groppel also moved for a competency and culpability examination. This case presented questions regarding to whom these experts served, how they were to be chosen, and who had bear their costs. The Alaska Supreme Court answered that these were the court’s experts, that Alaska Psychiatric Institute (API) had to provide them if API did not employ such qualified experts, then the superior court had to appoint qualified experts and the Alaska Court System had bear their costs. View "Alaska v. Groppel" on Justia Law

by
Stacey Graham pleaded guilty to second-degree murder after striking and killing two pedestrians while driving intoxicated. He was sued by the victims’ families. Graham appealed his sentence, arguing he could assert the privilege against self-incrimination in response to the families’ discovery requests based on: (1) his criminal sentence appeal; and (2) the possibility that he might file an application for post-conviction relief if his sentence was upheld. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded Graham could assert the privilege against self-incrimination in the civil proceeding based on the possibility that the decision on his pending sentence appeal might require a new sentencing proceeding where his compelled testimony in the civil proceeding could be used to his disadvantage. The Supreme Court declined to decide whether Graham was entitled to assert the privilege based on the possibility that he might eventually file an application for post-conviction relief because that issue was not ripe for review. View "Graham v. Durr" on Justia Law

by
Kevin Patterson has been incarcerated since 2013, having been convicted after a bench trial of seven counts of possession of child pornography. In May 2015 Patterson filed a 121-page civil complaint in superior court in Juneau. The complaint named as defendants the governor and his predecessor, the Alaska Legislature, a state senator, the then-current and two former attorneys general, an assistant attorney general, an attorney with the Office of Public Advocacy, and the State of Alaska. The complaint alleged that these state officials and entities had “directly harmed . . . Patterson in numerous ways and [had] violated his Constitutional Rights over and over.” It sought damages for Patterson’s incarceration, violence and emotional distress he allegedly suffered while in prison, and the alleged denial of medical care. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed dismissal of Patterson’s complaint, holding a civil suit for damages allegedly caused by a criminal conviction or sentence may not be maintained if judgment for the plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of the conviction or sentence, unless the conviction or sentence has first been set aside in the course of the criminal proceedings. The Court also rejected Patterson’s claim that the superior court demonstrated an unfair bias against him. View "Patterson v. Walker" on Justia Law

by
Alaska inmate David Simmons refused to provide a DNA sample for Alaska’s DNA identification registration system pursuant to a statutory requirement that persons convicted of certain crimes provide a DNA sample for the system. Refusal to submit a sample constituted a felony; for refusing the sample, he was charged with an infraction in a prison disciplinary hearing and found guilty. He appealed to the superior court, which affirmed. Simmons appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court, arguing primarily that the crimes for which he was found guilty and incarcerated occurred before the effective date of the DNA identification registration system, and the DNA sample requirement either was not retrospective or, if it was, violated the ex post facto clauses of the Alaska and U.S. Constitutions. A secondary issue raised by Simmons' appeal pertained to counsel in disciplinary proceedings. Because the inmate was charged with a disciplinary infraction constituting a felony, under Alaska case law he had the right to counsel in his disciplinary hearing. The Department of Corrections refused to provide him counsel for his hearing. The superior court ruled that although the denial of counsel violated the inmate’s constitutional rights, the violation did not prejudice his ability to have a fair hearing. Rejecting Simmons' contentions with respect to the sample-felony, and finding no other reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s decisions. View "Simmons v. Alaska, Dept. of Corrections" on Justia Law

by
Federal law mandated a prison disciplinary decision include a written statement of the evidence relied on and the reasons for the decision. In this case, the superior court affirmed a decision finding a prisoner “guilty” without any further explanation. The court reasoned that the prisoner was not prejudiced because the disciplinary hearing was recorded, and the prisoner was able to adequately explain his version of the evidence in his appeal. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the written disciplinary decision or the audio recording must ordinarily include a specific statement satisfying federal law: a mere finding of “guilty” is generally insufficient. The Court reversed the superior court’s decision affirming the decision of the Department of Corrections. View "Huber v. Alaska, Dept. of Corrections" on Justia Law

by
John Doe I and John Doe II were two separate individuals required by the Department of Public Safety (DPS) to register as sex offenders in Alaska based on their out-of-state convictions. DPS argued Doe I’s Washington convictions and Doe II’s California conviction were “similar” to the Alaska offense of attempted sexual abuse of a minor under AS 11.31.100 and AS 11.41.436(a)(2), making both Doe I and Doe II subject to Alaska’s sex offender registration requirement. One superior court judge determined that Doe I was not required to register; another superior court judge determined that Doe II was required to register. The cases were consolidated on appeal, and the Alaska Supreme Court concluded that neither the Washington nor the California laws under which Doe I and Doe II were convicted were similar to the relevant Alaska law and therefore held that neither Doe I nor Doe II was required to register under Alaska law. View "Alaska, Dept. of Public Safety v. Doe I" on Justia Law

by
Police entered the defendant Antonio Jordan’s property and found 15 marijuana plants, which when stripped and dried yielded over a pound and a half of marijuana. At trial, the court excluded the defendant’s testimony that he believed he possessed less than four ounces of marijuana (the statutory limit) and failed to instruct the jury that it had to find a culpable mental state with regard to the marijuana’s weight. The jury convicted the defendant of possessing at least four ounces, a class C felony. On appeal, the court of appeals held that the trial court erred both by barring the defendant’s testimony about his subjective belief and by omitting a mental state element from the jury instructions. But finding these errors harmless, the court affirmed the defendant’s conviction. Defendant argued on appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court (for the first time) that the alleged errors at trial were structural errors. The Supreme Court agreed conditionally and in part, holding that omitting from jury instructions a contested element of an offense was structural error. Furthermore, the Court held that the restriction on the defendant’s testimony in this case was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, though the Court did not reach the question whether it was structural error. “Our decision of these issues, however, assumes that the defendant’s possession of marijuana in a greenhouse on his residential property should be afforded the same constitutional protections given to his possession of marijuana in the home. Whether this is a legitimate assumption was not decided in either the superior court or the court of appeals.” The Court reversed the court of appeals and remanded to the superior court to consider in the first instance whether the constitutional protections applied. View "Jordan v. Alaska" on Justia Law

by
Police entered the defendant Antonio Jordan’s property and found 15 marijuana plants, which when stripped and dried yielded over a pound and a half of marijuana. At trial, the court excluded the defendant’s testimony that he believed he possessed less than four ounces of marijuana (the statutory limit) and failed to instruct the jury that it had to find a culpable mental state with regard to the marijuana’s weight. The jury convicted the defendant of possessing at least four ounces, a class C felony. On appeal, the court of appeals held that the trial court erred both by barring the defendant’s testimony about his subjective belief and by omitting a mental state element from the jury instructions. But finding these errors harmless, the court affirmed the defendant’s conviction. Defendant argued on appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court (for the first time) that the alleged errors at trial were structural errors. The Supreme Court agreed conditionally and in part, holding that omitting from jury instructions a contested element of an offense was structural error. Furthermore, the Court held that the restriction on the defendant’s testimony in this case was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, though the Court did not reach the question whether it was structural error. “Our decision of these issues, however, assumes that the defendant’s possession of marijuana in a greenhouse on his residential property should be afforded the same constitutional protections given to his possession of marijuana in the home. Whether this is a legitimate assumption was not decided in either the superior court or the court of appeals.” The Court reversed the court of appeals and remanded to the superior court to consider in the first instance whether the constitutional protections applied. View "Jordan v. Alaska" on Justia Law

by
The Alaska Department of Corrections (DOC) found an inmate guilty of making a false statement to a staff member about work he was supposed to do. The inmate was ordered to pay in restitution half the amount of his wages for that work. The inmate appealed, arguing that DOC violated his due process rights by refusing to allow him to call witnesses at his disciplinary hearing. The Alaska Supreme Court recognized prisoners have a constitutional right to call witnesses at a disciplinary hearing and that the hearing officer’s failure to call the inmate's requested witnesses was prejudicial. The disciplinary decision was reversed and the matter remanded for a new hearing. View "Walker v. Alaska Dept. of Corrections" on Justia Law

by
The Alaska Department of Corrections (DOC) found an inmate guilty of making a false statement to a staff member about work he was supposed to do. The inmate was ordered to pay in restitution half the amount of his wages for that work. The inmate appealed, arguing that DOC violated his due process rights by refusing to allow him to call witnesses at his disciplinary hearing. The Alaska Supreme Court recognized prisoners have a constitutional right to call witnesses at a disciplinary hearing and that the hearing officer’s failure to call the inmate's requested witnesses was prejudicial. The disciplinary decision was reversed and the matter remanded for a new hearing. View "Walker v. Alaska Dept. of Corrections" on Justia Law