Appeal from the Superior Court, Third Judicial District, Anchorage, Philip R. Volland, Judge. Court of Appeals No. A-10384 Trial Court No. 3AN-06-1057 Cr
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mannheimer, Judge.
The text of this opinion can be corrected before the opinion is published in the Pacific Reporter. Readers are encouraged to bring typographical or other formal errors to the attention of the Clerk of the Appellate Courts:
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Before: Coats, Chief Judge, and Mannheimer and Bolger, Judges.
This case involves an effort by the defendant, Kristopher William Felber, to withdraw from a plea agreement that he reached with the State of Alaska. Under this agreement, Felber pleaded guilty to twenty-three criminal charges -- ranging from second-degree murder and several counts of first-degree assault, to vehicle theft, driving under the influence, and driving with a suspended license.
The plea agreement called for the superior court to impose a composite sentence of between 50 and 85 years to serve (with the possibility of additional suspended jail time). But after Felber accepted the plea agreement and entered his guilty pleas, he became convinced that even the minimum sentence envisioned by the plea agreement -- i.e., 50 years to serve -- was unjustifiably severe under Alaska sentencing law. Felber therefore asked the superior court to release him from the plea agreement.
What makes this case unusual is that Felber offered to unconditionally plead guilty again to all of the charges against him if the superior court allowed him to withdraw from the plea agreement. In other words, Felber remained willing to concede his guilt as to all charges, but he did not want the superior court to be bound by the 50 to 85-year sentencing range specified in the plea agreement.
As we explain in this opinion, the true underlying issue in this case is whether the sentencing range specified in the plea agreement subjected Felber to a sentence so severe that it could not be justified under the sentencing criteria codified in AS 12.55.005 and prior Alaska sentencing case law. We conclude that Felber's sentence is justified, given the totality of his conduct and his background. Accordingly, we conclude that Felber failed to demonstrate a fair and just reason to withdraw from the plea agreement.
On the morning of January 31, 2006, Kristopher Felber stole a truck that was idling outside a residence in the Muldoon area of Anchorage. Felber ran a stop sign and turned south onto Boniface Parkway (an arterial road running north-south) -- almost colliding with two vehicles in the process. The driver of one of these vehicles later described Felber's driving as "above and beyond crazy".
This driver followed Felber to the intersection of Boniface Parkway and Northern Lights Boulevard, where Felber turned right (west) and accelerated the stolen truck to a speed of 70 to 80 miles per hour. As Felber approached East High School (i.e., near the intersection of Northern Lights Boulevard and Bragaw Street), an Anchorage police patrol vehicle began following Felber, and soon three other police cars joined the pursuit. Additional patrol cars positioned themselves to block off the intersection of Northern Lights Boulevard and Lake Otis Parkway (the next major intersection that Felber would encounter as he drove west).
By coordinating their efforts, police officers in four patrol cars managed to box Felber in and bring him to a halt. The officers approached Felber with drawn weapons and flashlights; they ordered him to get out of the stolen truck and to keep his hands in plain view.
Although Felber was seemingly trapped, he suddenly put the truck into reverse and accelerated backward, ramming the patrol vehicle that was stationed behind him and forcing a police officer to scramble out of the way to avoid being run down. Felber then put the truck into drive and accelerated again -- this time forcing two officers who were in front of him to dash to the side to avoid being hit. Felber struck two police vehicles and rammed the cars of several civilians as he plowed an escape route westward on Northern Lights. One of the witnesses described the scene as "the infield of [a] demolition derby".
Felber drove his truck over the median that separates the eastbound and westbound traffic on Northern Lights Boulevard, so that he was driving the wrong way in the eastbound lanes when he approached the intersection of Northern Lights and Lake Otis Parkway. Two of the police officers at the scene fired shots at Felber in an effort to stop him, but these shots missed. When Felber got to the intersection, he turned north on Lake Otis Parkway and accelerated to a speed of close to 80 miles per hour. At the next controlled intersection (the intersection of Lake Otis Parkway and East 20th Street), Felber ran a red light and collided with a Chevrolet driven by Stephen Strain. Felber did not make an appreciable effort to slow his vehicle before the collision: he struck the Chevrolet at approximately 60 miles per hour, and he kept his foot on the gas even after colliding with the Chevrolet.
Felber pushed the Chevrolet northward 75 feet -- where both Felber's truck and the Chevrolet came to rest. In the process, Felber's stolen truck and the Chevrolet collided with three other vehicles and injured the drivers of those vehicles. As for Stephen Strain (the driver of the Chevrolet), he suffered multiple blunt force injuries, and he died at the scene.
Felber immediately fled the scene of this collision. When the police arrived at the scene, they found the stolen truck with no one inside. Forty minutes later, Felber was observed walking on a nearby street. When the police stopped him, Felber was wearing a glove on his left hand, but his right hand was ungloved and in his pocket. The matching glove was found next to the passenger door of the stolen truck.
Felber claimed that he had just come from a nearby house and that he had not been driving. His breath smelled of alcoholic beverages, and he appeared to be intoxicated. Later testing of Felber's blood showed that he had a blood alcohol level of between .11 and .13 percent, and that his blood also contained a sufficient amount of THC (the active component of marijuana) to independently impair his ability to drive.
Based on these events, Felber was indicted for second-degree murder (and an alternative count of manslaughter) for causing the death of Stephen Strain, and on four counts of first-degree assault (together with four alternative counts of third-degree assault) for causing serious physical injury to the drivers of four other vehicles. In addition, Felber was indicted on four counts of third-degree assault for placing four police officers in fear of imminent serious physical injury, and five more counts of third- degree assault for placing five other motorists in fear of imminent serious physical injury. Finally, Felber was indicted for first-degree vehicle theft (for stealing the truck), ...