Articles Posted in Alaska Supreme Court

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In November 1999, Alaska filed a felony information charging Sean Wright with sexually abusing two young girls. Wright was not arrested or indicted on these charges until almost five years later. He moved to dismiss the charges, claiming, among other reasons, that his right to a speedy trial had been violated. The superior court denied this motion. On appeal, the court of appeals ordered a reassessment of Wright’s claim. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded speedy trial time begins to run from the filing of an information, and that that the superior court did not err in attributing primary responsibility for the delay to Wright. View "Alaska v. Wright" on Justia Law

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In 2009, Richard Mattox sued the Department of Corrections (DOC) for injuries arising from an assault by another prisoner. Mattox alleged that DOC was negligent in failing to accommodate his requests for transfer to a different housing module prior to the assault and that DOC was negligent in permitting the correctional officer on duty to leave the module during the time the assault occurred. The superior court granted DOC’s motion for partial summary judgment regarding classification and housing assignments and then granted DOC’s motion for summary judgment on all other causes of action. The Alaska Supreme Court remanded because there was a material question of fact regarding the foreseeability of the assault. Mattox moved for a new trial on the grounds that the jury erroneously applied the doctrine of discretionary function immunity in reaching its verdict when that question should have been decided by the court before trial. The court denied that motion and Mattox appealed. The Supreme Court concluded Mattox waived any challenge to the jury’s application of the doctrine, and the superior court committed no reversible error by allowing the jury to apply the doctrine rather than applying the doctrine itself sua sponte. View "Mattox v. Dept. of Corrections" on Justia Law

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In 2013, a number of pro se prisoners moved the superior court to enforce the terms of a 1990 Final Settlement Agreement and Order in "Cleary v. Smith," a class action by inmates regarding prison conditions. In 2014 Superior Court Judge John Suddock dismissed the prisoners’ motions, concluding that the Final Settlement Agreement was unenforceable because it had been terminated in 2001 when Superior Court Judge Elaine Andrews found that the requirements for termination had been met. But Judge Andrews did not terminate the Final Settlement Agreement because she determined that the Alaska Prison Litigation Reform Act was only constitutional if it did not terminate the Final Settlement Agreement. Judge Andrews’s 2001 Order became the law of the case when it was issued. Because Judge Suddock failed to make required findings when reversing the law of the case, the Alaska Supreme Court reversed Judge Suddock’s Order and remanded for further proceedings. View "Barber v. Alaska" on Justia Law

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Appellant Sean Wright, a former inmate of the Alaska Department of Corrections (DOC) who was incarcerated at an out-of-state correctional facility under contract with DOC, filed a medical malpractice and 42 U.S.C. 1983 civil rights action against officials employed by the out-of-state correctional facility and by DOC. The civil rights claims alleged that the corrections officials were deliberately indifferent to Wright's medical needs. The superior court granted summary judgment dismissing the medical malpractice action as barred by the two-year statute of limitations. Subsequently the court granted summary judgment on the deliberate indifference claims against the inmate. In the course of the proceedings, Wright unsuccessfully sought to have the superior court judge removed for alleged bias. Wright appealed these decisions. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Wright v. Anding" on Justia Law

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The father of three Indian children killed their mother. After the father’s arrest, the father’s relatives moved the children from Alaska to Texas and gained custody of the children through a Texas district court order. The mother’s sister filed a separate action against the father in Alaska superior court, seeking custody of the children and challenging the Texas order. Although Alaska had exclusive jurisdiction to make the initial custody determination, the Alaska court concluded that Texas was the more appropriate forum and ceded its jurisdiction to the Texas court, primarily because evidence about the children’s current status was in Texas. The Alaska Supreme Court vacated the superior court’s decision: it was an abuse of discretion to minimize the importance of protecting the children from the father’s alleged domestic violence and to minimize evidence required to resolve domestic violence and Indian Child Welfare Act issues in this case. View "Rice v. McDonald" on Justia Law

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Alex H., a prisoner, challenged the superior court’s denial of his request for transport to attend in person his parental rights termination trial, and, therefore, the ultimate termination of his parental rights. He argued that when denying his transport request the superior court: (1) abused its discretion by concluding in its statutory analysis that transport was not required; (2) abused its discretion or erred by failing to consider all required factors for the statutory analysis; and (3) separately violated his due process rights by denying him in-person attendance at the parental rights termination trial. Because the superior court considered all relevant factors the parties presented to it, because it was not obvious that considering additional factors would have changed the court’s statutory analysis, and because the prisoner’s due process rights were not violated, the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s transport decision and ultimate termination of the prisoner’s parental rights. View "Alex H. v. Dept. of Health & Social Services" on Justia Law

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The respondent in involuntary commitment and medication proceedings, Jacob S., appealed a few issues related to findings that he was mentally ill and posed a risk of harm to others. The superior court ordered both 30-and 90-day commitments, the latter following a jury trial. The court also entered medication orders after finding the respondent unable to make mental health treatment decisions. The primary argument respondent made on appeal of the commitment order, was: (1) when a respondent requests a jury trial on a 90-day commitment petition, who decides the factual underpinning for and the ultimate question of least restrictive alternative to commitment (the jury or the court); and (2) can a respondent be found incompetent under AS 47.0.837(d)(1) if only part of the requirements of that statute is not met? The Alaska Supreme Court concluded that: (1) the court decides the question of least restrictive alternative; and (2) yes, a respondent can be found incompetent if one part is not met. The Court therefore affirmed the superior court’s commitment and medication orders. View "In Re Necessity for the Hospitalization of Jacob S." on Justia Law

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In a prison discipline proceeding, prisoner William Johnson was found guilty of possessing contraband. He appealed his punishment to a discipline committee, which affirmed the decision. Represented by counsel, Johnson appealed to the superior court, alleging that the Department of Corrections had deprived him of due process. The court granted the State’s unopposed motion to dismiss the appeal on the ground that the prisoner’s statement of points on appeal was deficient. When Johnson moved for reconsideration but made no attempt to remedy the deficiency, the superior court denied his motion and awarded the State attorney’s fees. Johnson appealed the dismissal and the award of attorney’s fees. Finding no error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Johnson v. Dept. of Corrections" on Justia Law

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The Anchorage Police Department seized some of appellant Willie Jackson's personal property when he was arrested. He would be charged with several state-law felonies, which were later dropped after he was indicted on federal charges. In December 2012, nearly eight years after the Anchorage police’s initial seizure of his property, Jackson filed a conversion suit against the Municipality of Anchorage, alleging the Municipality unlawfully failed to return his seized property despite a September 2006 order from the U.S. District Court ordering its return. The Municipality moved to dismiss the case based on the statute of limitations. The superior court dismissed Jackson’s case under Alaska Civil Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, and Jackson appealed. Because Jackson’s complaint alleged facts which, if proved, were sufficient to entitle him to some form of relief, the Alaska Supreme Court reversed the order dismissing Jackson’s complaint and remanded for further proceedings. View "Jackson v. Municipality of Anchorage" on Justia Law

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Defendant Aaron Young was accused of involvement in a shooting and convicted at trial, in part on the strength of three eyewitness identifications. He challenged the admissibility of two of the identifications on due process grounds, but the superior court ruled them admissible. Defendant also requested an eyewitness-specific jury instruction, which the superior court refused. Furthermore, defendant argued that he was entitled to a mistrial because of an alleged discovery violation by the State that he learned of mid-trial. The superior court denied his motion, finding that the State had not violated the disclosure rules and alternatively that the defendant had not suffered any prejudice. The defendant was convicted, and the court of appeals affirmed his conviction. On petition to the Alaska Supreme Court, defendant argued not only that his conviction should have been reversed based on the current law on the admissibility of eyewitness identifications, but also that Alaska’s due process clause required the adoption of a new test. He also argued that the superior court erred in failing to give his requested jury instruction and in failing to grant him a mistrial. The Supreme Court held that the superior court erred under the law as it currently existed when it held one of the eyewitness identifications sufficiently reliable to be admitted at trial, but that it did not err in admitting the other. The Court also held that the superior court erred in refusing to give an eyewitness-specific jury instruction but did not err in denying a mistrial. Because the errors were harmless, the Court affirmed defendant’s conviction. In light of the issues raised by this appeal, the Court concluded that the current test for the admissibility of eyewitness identification evidence does not adequately protect the right to due process under the Alaska Constitution. The Court therefore identified factors that courts should consider in future cases when deciding whether to admit eyewitness identification evidence. View "Young v. Alaska" on Justia Law