Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Alaska Supreme Court
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Before the Alaska Supreme Court in this case was a constitutional claim arising from the application of a juvenile jurisdiction waiver statute. A minor subject to the statutory provision did not testify at his waiver hearing and did not overcome the presumption enumerated in the statute; the superior court granted the State’s waiver petition. The minor appealed, contending the statutory rebuttable presumption and shifted burden of proof violated his constitutional right against self-incrimination and his constitutional due process rights. The Supreme Court explained that fundamental fairness required adopting an exclusionary rule when a minor bears the burden of rebutting the statutory presumption of being unamenable to treatment in the juvenile justice system: the minor’s testimonial evidence at the waiver hearing cannot be used as substantive evidence over the minor’s objection at any subsequent juvenile adjudication or adult criminal proceedings. View "C.D., a Minor v. State of Alaska" on Justia Law

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The court of appeals determined that Paino Manuel Alvarez-Perdomo was coerced to take the stand at his criminal trial, thus violating his privilege against self-incrimination in both the federal and Alaska constitutions. But the court of appeals held this error was not a structural error requiring reversal, and that the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. The Alaska Supreme Court granted certiorari to decide an issue of first impression: whether the violation of a criminal defendant’s right not to take the stand was a structural error., The Court concluded it was indeed a structural error, because it implicated personal interests more fundamental than the ordinary risk of a wrongful conviction. Accordingly, the Court reversed the appellate court and remanded for a new trial. View "Alvarez-Perdomo v. Alaska" on Justia Law

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This case involved prisoner Richard DeRemer's pro se appeal of the superior court’s dismissal of his civil complaint against three Alaska Department of Corrections (DOC) employees. DeRemer alleged numerous violations of his constitutional rights, and he requested declaratory relief and damages. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint addressing some, but not all, of DeRemer's claims. Specifically, the defendants did not address his First Amendment retaliation claim or request for declaratory relief. The court relied on this motion and dismissed the prisoner’s claims “for the reasons set forth in defendants’ motion,” failing to provide any independent analysis of the prisoner’s claims. Because the court, by adopting the defendants’ reasoning, failed to address all of the prisoner’s claims, the Alaska Supreme Court reversed the court’s order with respect to the First Amendment retaliation claim and remanded for further proceedings. The Supreme Court affirmed the court’s dismissal of the prisoner’s other claims. View "DeRemer, III v. Turnbull" on Justia Law

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When the Department of Corrections (DOC) discovered that one of its contract employees, a substance abuse counselor, was in an “intimate relationship” with a prisoner in violation of prison policy, DOC barred the counselor and her parents from visiting the prisoner or putting money in his prison bank account. The prisoner sued DOC, alleging that these restrictions violated his constitutional and statutory rights to rehabilitation. When the prisoner moved for summary judgment, DOC moved to amend its answer to deny the statutory claim it had failed to deny in its original answer. The prisoner then moved to amend his complaint to add a claim asserting the constitutional rights of the counselor and her parents. The superior court granted DOC’s motion to amend, denied the prisoner’s motion to amend as futile, and granted summary judgment in DOC’s favor. The prisoner appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court found the DOC’s visitation restrictions were reasonable exercises of its authority to address legitimate penological interests and therefore did not violate the prisoner’s constitutional or statutory rights to rehabilitation. Furthermore, the Supreme Court concluded the superior court did not abuse its discretion when it granted DOC’s motion to amend its answer and denied the prisoner’s motion to amend his complaint. View "Ebli v. Alaska, Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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A juvenile from a small village could not afford to travel to the site of his juvenile delinquency proceeding. His attorney with the Public Defender Agency (the Agency) filed a motion asking the superior court to require the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) to pay the travel expenses for both the juvenile and one of his parents. The superior court denied the motion and required the Agency to pay the expenses. The court of appeals upheld the superior court’s decision, reasoning that the Agency’s authorizing statute could plausibly be interpreted to cover client travel expenses and that this reading was supported by administrative guidance in the form of two Attorney General opinions and a regulation governing reimbursements by the Office of Public Advocacy (OPA). The Alaska Supreme Court granted the Agency’s petition for hearing, asking the Agency and DJJ to address two questions: (1) whether the Agency has a statutory obligation to pay its clients’ travel expenses; and (2) whether DJJ has a statutory obligation to pay those expenses. The Supreme Court concluded neither entity’s authorizing statutes required the payment and therefore reversed the court of appeals. The Court did not address the question of how these necessary expenses were to be funded; the Court surmised that was an issue for the executive and legislative branches. View "Alaska Public Defender Agency v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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In 2015, then-21-year-old G.L. was arrested after allegedly firing a loaded shotgun at buildings and people in his village. G.L. faced criminal charges related to the shooting, but the superior court ultimately ruled him mentally incompetent for criminal proceedings and in 2016 committed him to Alaska Psychiatric Institute (API) for competence restoration. G.L. was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He refused to consistently take medications and “was becoming increasingly psychotic and paranoid and dangerous” while at API for competence restoration. G.L. appealed a 180-day involuntary commitment order, arguing that the evidence presented at the commitment hearing was outdated and insufficient to support concluding that he continued posing a risk of harm to others. Because the superior court correctly applied the involuntary commitment statute in this case, appropriately considering the patient’s recent history of conduct and demonstrated unwillingness to comply with treatment, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the commitment order. View "In the Matter of the Necessity for the Hospitalization of G.L." on Justia Law

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Two prisoners in Alaska Department of Corrections’ (DOC) custody were placed in administrative segregation pending an investigation and disciplinary proceedings related to an alleged escape attempt. The disciplinary decisions were later overturned on appeal to the superior court based on procedural defects. However, the prisoners had lost their Prison Industries jobs because of the administrative segregation placements. They filed a civil suit against two DOC officers in superior court, alleging due process violations and seeking damages for lost wages and property. The case was removed to federal court; the federal judge ruled that the inmates lacked a constitutionally protected interest in their jobs and that the DOC officers were entitled to qualified immunity. Meanwhile, the prisoners filed another complaint in the superior court, this time naming the officers in both their official and individual capacities and raising due process claims under both the United States and Alaska Constitutions. After both parties cross-moved for summary judgment, the superior court granted summary judgment for the DOC officers, finding that although the federal judgment did not bar the prisoners’ complaint under the doctrine of res judicata, their constitutional claims lacked merit and the DOC officers were entitled to qualified immunity. The prisoners appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court, arguing they had a constitutionally protected interest in their jobs; that this interest was clearly established and therefore precludes a qualified immunity defense; that the superior court made various procedural errors; and that it did not adequately instruct the unrepresented prisoners on how to pursue their claims. Because the Supreme Court found the administrative segregation hearings conducted by DOC satisfied any due process requirements to which the prisoners may have been entitled, and because the superior court did not abuse its discretion in any of its procedural rulings, it affirmed the superior court’s grant of summary judgment. View "Smith v. Alaska, Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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An inmate representing himself sued the prison superintendent and chaplain for violating his religious rights by providing an inadequate halal diet, banning scented prayer oils, and not allowing him to have additional religious texts in his cell beyond the prison’s limit. He claimed these actions violated the Equal Protection Clause of both the Alaska Constitution and the federal Constitution, and the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). The inmate also sought reimbursement for scented oils that the prison had destroyed. The superior court granted the prison officials’ motion for summary judgment and dismissed all of the inmate’s claims. The Alaska Supreme Court reversed summary judgment on the inmate’s RLUIPA claim regarding the halal diet because the inmate did not receive adequate guidance on how to file affidavits in opposition to the summary judgment motion. The Court also reversed summary judgment on the RLUIPA claim regarding scented oils because the prison officials failed to satisfy their burden of proving that banning such oils was the least restrictive means to address their substantial interest in maintaining prison security and health. The Court affirmed dismissal of the inmate’s claims regarding the religious book limit because the issue was not yet ripe. And the Court vacated the award of attorney’s fees and costs. View "Leahy v. Conant" on Justia Law

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A man accidentally killed his roommate with a large knife while demonstrating martial arts moves. He pled guilty to criminally negligent homicide and stipulated to the applicability of a statutory aggravator that allowed sentencing above the upper range when a crime is “committed against . . . a member of the social unit made up of those living together in the same dwelling as the defendant.” On appeal of the sentence, defendant argued the aggravator was inappropriate in the context of his case. The court of appeals agreed, concluding that the aggravator is limited to cases in which the defendant’s conduct was specifically directed at the victim and had some source in the relationship between the victim and the defendant. Upon the State’s request for review, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded the aggravator applied to the facts of this case and the sentencing court was not clearly mistaken in giving it some weight. Therefore, the Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals. View "Alaska v. Tofelogo" on Justia Law

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In 2000 John Doe was convicted of aggravated sexual battery in Virginia. He was sentenced to five years imprisonment, with all time suspended, and a five-year term of probation. Under Virginia law Doe was required to register as a sex offender. Doe moved to Alaska in January 2003. On January 6, 2003, he registered as a sex offender. On April 11, 2003, the Department of Public Safety (DPS) wrote Doe indicating that he had to register annually in January of each year. He did so in 2004 and 2005. On February 4, 2005, DPS wrote Doe stating that he was required to register quarterly, for life. DPS noted that Doe’s Virginia conviction “has essentially the same elements as sexual assault [first] degree (AS 11.41.410), which is an aggravated offense that requires quarterly verification of your sex offender registration information.” This appeal presented two questions concerning the Alaska Sexual Offender Registration Act (ASORA): (1) whether ASORA’s registration requirements could be imposed on sex offenders who moved to Alaska after committing sex offenses elsewhere; and (2) whether ASORA violated due process by requiring all sex offenders to register without providing a procedure for them to establish that they do not represent a threat to the public. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded ASORA’s registration requirements could constitutionally be applied to out-of-state offenders. The Court also concluded ASORA violated due process, but its defect could be cured by providing a procedure for offenders to establish their non-dangerousness. View "John Doe v. Alaska, Department of Public Safety" on Justia Law