Appeal from the District Court, Third Judicial District, Kenai, Peter G. Ashman, Judge. Trial Court No. 3KN-11-583 CR.
Olena Kalytiak Davis, Anchorage, for the Appellant.
Mary Gilson, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Special Prosecutions and Appeals, Anchorage, and Michael C. Geraghty, Attorney General, Juneau, for the Appellee.
Before: Mannheimer, Chief Judge, and Allard, Judge, and Hanley, District Court Judge.[*]
A jury convicted Valerie Leggett of driving under the influence, and she appeals. Leggett argues the trial court erred in finding her admission of driving was sufficiently corroborated to satisfy the corpus delicti rule. A central issue in this appeal is whether a trial judge can consider inadmissible evidence in determining whether a defendant's confession is sufficiently corroborated to satisfy Alaska's corpus delicti rule.
Because Alaska takes an " evidentiary foundation" approach to corpus delicti, we conclude that Alaska Evidence Rule 104(a) applies to corpus delicti determinations. This evidence rule declares that when a judge is making preliminary determinations concerning the admissibility of proposed evidence, the judge is not bound by the rules of evidence. Thus, under Evidence Rule 104(a), a trial judge may consider inadmissible evidence when determining whether a defendant's confession is sufficiently corroborated to satisfy the corpus delicti rule.
Leggett also argues that the court erred in not sua sponte granting a mistrial after a key government witness invoked the Fifth Amendment, and that the court later erred in denying Leggett's motion for a new trial on this same basis. We conclude the trial court was not required to declare a mistrial sua sponte, and that the court did not err when it denied Leggett's motion for a new trial.
Facts and proceedings
Valerie Leggett and her husband, Dustin Leggett, were drinking at a bar near their home in Sterling. Later that evening, Dustin called 911 to report that Leggett had tried to run him over. Troopers responded, and Leggett admitted she had driven. She stated that a friend had been driving them home but she and Dustin argued during the trip. The friend and Dustin got out of the vehicle, and Leggett drove the rest of the way to their house -- a short distance -- to get to their son before Dustin did. Leggett denied trying to run Dustin over. Both Leggett and Dustin were intoxicated.
Dustin gave conflicting information to the troopers. He said that after he got out of the car, Leggett tried to run him over and headbutted him. But the trooper did not believe Dustin's allegations. In fact, the evidence indicated that Dustin had assaulted Leggett. Leggett was injured; she had a concussion and appeared to have a fractured nose. The State charged Dustin with assault, and he ultimately pleaded guilty to harassment.
Based on the evidence that Leggett had driven the car while she was intoxicated, Leggett was charged with driving under the influence. The State's evidence that Leggett had driven consisted of her own admissions that she drove, plus the ...