Michael B. KNIPE, Appellant,
STATE of Alaska, Appellee.
Dan S. Bair, Assistant Public Advocate, Appeals & Statewide Defense Section, and Richard Allen, Alaska Public Advocate, Anchorage, for the Appellant.
Terisia K. Chleborad, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Special Prosecutions and Appeals, Anchorage, and Michael C. Geraghty, Attorney General, Juneau, for the Appellee.
Before: MANNHEIMER, Chief Judge, ALLARD, Judge and BOLGER, Supreme Court Justice.[*]
Michael B. Knipe pled guilty to one count of sexual abuse of a minor in the first degree for sexually penetrating his three-year-old cousin. A first-time felony offender, Knipe faced a presumptive range of 25 to 35 years. At sentencing, Knipe requested that the superior court refer his case to the statewide three-judge sentencing panel on the ground that any term within the presumptive sentence would be manifestly unjust as applied to him. Superior Court Judge Eric A. Smith denied the request and sentenced Knipe to 30 years with 5 years suspended, 25 years to serve, the lowest presumptive term available. Knipe now appeals. For the reasons discussed below, we conclude that we have jurisdiction to hear Knipe's appeal and further conclude that the superior court was not clearly mistaken in refusing to send Knipe's case to the three-judge panel.
In November 2008, twenty-two-year-old Michael Knipe, who has been diagnosed with borderline intellectual functioning, was living with his uncle and his uncle's family, which included Knipe's three-year-old cousin C.T. In the early hours of November 10, a family friend staying in the house heard C.T. crying and found her in the bathroom with Knipe, whose shirt was off and whose pants were unzipped. C.T. had blood on her pants and shirt. The police were called and they interviewed Knipe, who told them he put his finger in C.T.'s vagina, causing C.T. to bleed profusely.
C.T. was transported to the Children's Place where she was interviewed and received medical attention. There was a significant laceration to her vaginal area, similar to the type of injury that can result from a woman giving birth. The injury required surgical repair, including two layers of sutures.
Knipe was charged with three counts of first-degree sexual abuse of a minor for knowingly engaging in sexual penetration with C.T., a victim under thirteen years of age. Knipe subsequently pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree sexual abuse of a minor pursuant to a plea agreement. The State agreed not to file any aggravating factors and agreed to dismiss the remaining counts. Sentencing was otherwise open.
Knipe's prior criminal history was limited to a shoplifting incident. As a first felony offender, Knipe faced a presumptive range of 25 to 35 years. 
In her sentencing memorandum, Knipe's attorney focused on Knipe's low intellectual functioning and his childhood history of sexual abuse and neglect, which included being allegedly sexually abused by his uncle, C.T.'s father. Knipe's attorney also emphasized Knipe's lack of criminal history and the alcohol-related nature of his actions. She requested that the superior court refer Knipe's case to the statewide three-judge sentencing ...