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State v. Leighton

Court of Appeals of Alaska

October 24, 2014

STATE OF ALASKA, Appellant,
v.
TARA LEIGHTON, Appellee

Petition from the Superior Court, Fourth Judicial District, Fairbanks, Randy M. Olsen, Judge. Trial Court No. 4FA-11-4262 CR.

Tamara E. de Lucia and Timothy W. Terrell, Assistant Attorneys General, Office of Special Prosecutions and Appeals, Anchorage, and Michael C. Geraghty, Attorney General, Juneau, for the Appellant.

Wendy M. Doxey, Law Offices of William R. Satterberg Jr., Fairbanks, for the Appellee.

Before: Mannheimer, Chief Judge, Allard, Judge, and Hanley, District Court Judge.[*]

OPINION

Page 714

HANLEY, Judge.

In this appeal, we are asked to decide whether the grand jury clause of the Alaska Constitution (article I, section 8) requires grand juries to be instructed that they have absolute discretion to refuse to return an indictment, even when the State presents sufficient evidence to support the accusation. In this case, the superior court ruled that grand juries must be instructed in this fashion. For the reasons explained here, we reverse that decision.

Underlying facts and the superior court's ruling

Tara Leighton was indicted on five counts of first-degree sexual abuse of a minor for engaging in sexual penetration with a thirteen-year-old girl who played on a sports team that Leighton coached. Leighton moved to dismiss her indictment, arguing that the grand jurors should have been instructed that they could refuse to return the indictment even though the State's evidence was sufficient to justify the charges.

The Alaska Supreme Court has recognized that the grand jury acts " as both a shield and [a] sword of justice." [1] On the one hand, the grand jury is an accusatory and investigative body " tasked with determining whether criminal proceedings against the accused should be instituted." [2] But the grand jury also plays a protective role, " operat[ing] to control abuses by the government and protect[ing] the interests of the accused." [3]

In accordance with this law, the presiding judge of the Fourth Judicial District instructed Leighton's grand jury that its duty was two-fold:

First, grand jurors have an obligation to the people of the State of Alaska to compel persons charged with serious criminal conduct to answer for that conduct if there are grounds for the charge. At the same time, however, grand jurors have an obligation to every individual to ensure that no one is subjected to criminal prosecution without good cause.

The presiding judge then gave the instruction that is at issue in this case. We have italicized the language that ...


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