Excessive Sentencing Project - Alaska

Policies and rulings on lengthy imprisonment terms in Alaska.

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  • Alaska does not have a death penalty, and does not have LWOP or JLWOP. Parole is available. 
  • Alaska Statute 12.55.125 requires mandatory 99-year sentences for enumerated crimes and discretionary 99-year sentences in others. However, after serving half of the sentence, the statute permits an inmate one opportunity to apply for modification or reduction of sentence.
  • Alaska does not have a minimum age for transfer of a juvenile to adult court.
  • Under Alaska Statute 47.12.030(a), when a sixteen-year-old minor commits certain serious felonies, including murder, the minor "shall be charged, held, released on bail, prosecuted, sentenced, and incarcerated in the same manner as an adult." Gray v. State, 267 P.3d 667, 669 (Alaska Ct. App. 2011).
    • This automatic waiver statute does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment, at least when eventual eligibility for parole exists.
State Constitution

Section 1.12 - Criminal Administration: Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted. Criminal administration shall be based upon the following: the need for protecting the public, community condemnation of the offender, the rights of victims of crimes, restitution from the offender, and the principle of reformation.

NOTE – Largely interpreted as an equivalent to the Eighth Amendment.

Sentencing Statutes
  • Habitual Offender Statute  – Alaska does not have a habitual offender statute
  • Sentencing Guidelines System –
    Alaska has a presumptive sentencing scheme which limits judicial discretion which does not cover all offenses. The guidelines are not mandatory for the offenses they cover, but the court is required to complete a sentencing report. Significant variances from these presumptive sentence ranges require the trial judge to refer the matter to a sentencing panel of three judges. The defendant or the state may appeal based on a departure
     
  • Sentences that fall within the presumptive range are not considered excessive. See Shinault v. State, (2011) Alaska App., 258 P.3d 848.

Alaska Sentencing factors 

Alaska Statute § 12.55.005. Declaration of purpose

The purpose of this chapter is to provide the means for determining the appropriate sentence to be imposed upon conviction of an offense. The legislature finds that the elimination of unjustified disparity in sentences and the attainment of reasonable uniformity in sentences can best be achieved through a sentencing framework fixed by statute as provided in this chapter. In imposing sentence, the court shall consider

(1) the seriousness of the defendant's present offense in relation to other offenses;
(2) the prior criminal history of the defendant and the likelihood of rehabilitation;
(3) the need to confine the defendant to prevent further harm to the public;
(4) the circumstances of the offense and the extent to which the offense harmed the victim or endangered the public safety or order;
(5) the effect of the sentence to be imposed in deterring the defendant or other members of society from future criminal conduct;
(6) the effect of the sentence to be imposed as a community condemnation of the criminal act and as a reaffirmation of societal norms; and
(7) the restoration of the victim and the community.

Case Law

General 

Incarceration of person found guilty but mentally ill does not amount to cruel and unusual punishment; punishment is imposed for conduct, not mental illness, and is based on risk to public presented by that conduct. AS 12.47.030; AS 12.47.050; U.S.C.A. Const.Amend. 8; Const. Art. 1, §§ 1, 12; Barrett v. State, 772 P.2d 559 (Alaska Ct. App. 1989).

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Alaska has consistently upheld maximum sentences for murder in the first degree, including sentences for juvenile offenders. Ling v. State, A-9228, 2008 WL 2152028 (Alaska Ct. App. May 21, 2008)

State Constitution & Proportionality 

In determining whether sentence is excessive, the Alaska Supreme Court is guided by Const. art. 1, § 12 which states that "penal administration shall be based on the principle of reformation and upon need for protecting the public." Newsom v. State, 533 P.2d 904 (Alaska 1975); Const. art. 1, § 12.

Alaska courts acknowledge the similarities between Article 1, Section 12 of the Alaska Constitution and the Eighth Amendment of the federal constitution. In Schmidt v. State, 2005 Alas. App. LEXIS 35 (Alaska 2005), the court held that while "the Eighth Amendment prohibits 'extreme sentences that are 'grossly disproportionate' to the crime,'" the "Alaska Constitution similarly forbids punishments that are 'so disproportionate to the offense committed as to be completely arbitrary and shocking to the sense of justice.' Id. at 22-23. SeealsoPorterfield v. State, 2003 Alas. App. LEXIS 80 (Alaska Ct. App. 2003); Hillman v. Municipality of Anchorage, 941 P.2d 211 (Alaska Ct. App. 1997).

The Alaska Supreme Court has noted that while the Alaska Constitution "has no specific provision requiring that penalties shall be proportioned to the nature of the offense," Solem requires Alaska Courts to consider proportionality. Dancer v. State, 715 P.2d 1174, fn.6 (Alaska Ct. App. 1986)(citing Green v. State, 390 P.2d 433, 435 (Alaska 1964)). However, when the excessiveness of a sentence is based on the characteristics of the defendant, the appropriate test is whether the sentence violates "the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society." Gray v. State, 267 P.3d 667, 671 (Alaska Ct. App. 2011) (quoting Abraham v. State, 585 P.2d 526, 531-33 (Alaska 1978)).

The Alaska Supreme Court has consistently held that the Alaska Constitution does not require that penalties be proportionate to the offense. Only punishments that are "so disproportionate to the offense committed as to be completely arbitrary and shocking to the sense of justice' may be stricken as cruel and unusual under Alaska's Constitution." McNabb v. State, 860 P.2d 1294 (Alaska Ct. App. 1993); SeeThomas v. State, 566 P.2d 630, 635 (Alaska 1977); Green v. State, 390 P.2d 433, 435 (Alaska 1964). Moore v. State, 262 P.3d 217 (Alaska 2011).SeealsoSikeo v. State, 258 P.3d 906, 912 (Alaska Ct. App. 2011).

The Alaska Supreme Court has ruled that "the bare fact that a sentence is within the maximum prescribed by the legislature does not prevent it from violating the constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment." Furthermore, "in extraordinary circumstances a sentence, although within the limits prescribed by law, may be so 'disproportionate to the offense committed as to be completely arbitrary and shocking to the sense of justice,' and thus would amount to an unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment." Faulkner v. State, 445 P.2d 815, 818 (Alaska 1968) (holding that a 36-year sentence for passing bad checks was disproportionate to the offense).

Alaska does not consider the possibility of parole when deciding whether a sentence is excessive. Bordewick v. State, 569 P.2d 184, 185 (Alaska 1977); SeeHuff v. State, 568 P.2d 1014 (Alaska 1977).

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In determining whether a given sentence is excessive or overly lenient, Supreme Court will consider total sentence entered including any period of suspension or deferred imposition. Andrews v. State, 552 P.2d 150 (Alaska 1976).

The following cases briefly mention Const. Art. 1, § 12 in conjunction with the Eighth Amendment:

  • Bush v. Reid, 516 P.2d 1215
  • Lanier v. State, 486 P.2d 981,
  • Thompson v. State, 496 P.2d 651

Citations to Graham 

The following cases acknowledge the holding of Graham, but do not provide significant analysis:

  • Gray v. State, 267 P.3d 667 (Alaska Ct. App. 2011).

Severe Sentences 

  • Gray v. State, 267 P.3d 667 (Alaska Ct. App. 2011) –
    16-year old Defendant was convicted of first degree murder and kidnapping. She was sentenced to 99-years imprisonment (44 years suspended) for the murder, and a consecutive 10-year sentence for the kidnapping. However, the defendant would be eligible for parole after serving 25 years of her sentence.
     
  • Sikeo v. State, 258 P.3d 906, 907 (Alaska Ct. App. 2011) –
    Defendant was convicted of first-degree sexual abuse of a minor after having intercourse and impregnating his girlfriend's eleven year old daughter. Because Defendant had two prior sexual felonies, he fell within the purview of AS 12.55.125(i), and received a 99-year presumptive sentence. (This case also mentions Const. Art. 1, § 12).