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Pletcher v. State

Court of Appeals of Alaska

November 21, 2014

JOHN W. PLETCHER IV, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF ALASKA, Appellee

Appeal from the Superior Court, Third Judicial District, Anchorage, Michael L. Wolverton, Judge. Trial Court No. 3AN-09-14153 CR.

Allen F. Clendaniel and Carolyn Y. Heyman-Layne, Sedor, Wendlandt, Evans & Filippi, Anchorage, for the Appellant.

Mary A. 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, Allard, Judge, and Hanley, District Court Judge[*].

OPINION

Page 954

MANNHEIMER, Judge.

The defendant in this case was a former patient at an alcohol abuse treatment center. One morning he returned to the treatment center, and he was visibly intoxicated. When staff members asked him if he had been drinking, the defendant drove off in his motor vehicle.

The clinical director of the treatment center called the police to report that an intoxicated driver had just left the premises. The director gave the police a description of the vehicle, but she did not identify the driver, nor did she explain the driver's relationship to the treatment center.

This phone call led to a traffic stop -- and, ultimately, to the defendant's conviction for driving under the influence.

In this appeal, the defendant argues that when the director made the phone call to the police, she violated federal law that protects the privacy of patients receiving drug and alcohol treatment. The defendant then argues that the remedy for this purported violation of federal law should be suppression of all the evidence against him.

For the reasons explained in this opinion, we conclude that the director did not violate federal law when she called the police, and we further conclude that the ensuing investigation and prosecution of the defendant for driving under the influence was consistent with federal law.

Underlying facts

On the morning of December 10, 2009, John W. Pletcher IV drove to the Clitheroe Center located at Point Woronzof, near the Anchorage airport. This is a residential substance abuse treatment facility run by the Salvation Army.

Pletcher was known to the staff at Clitheroe because he had recently been a residential patient there. However, at the time of this incident, Pletcher had transferred to an outpatient program at a Salvation Army halfway house.

Pletcher showed signs of being intoxicated. When the staff asked him if he had been drinking, Pletcher ran outside into the parking lot. Two Clitheroe employees followed Pletcher outside, and they heard a car start

Page 955

up. One of these employees, Robert Marx, took note of Pletcher's vehicle as it drove off -- a red and white Land Rover with Alaska license plate DNK 265. Using a walkie-talkie, Marx relayed this information to the clinical director of Clitheroe, Brie David.

Ms. David then called the Anchorage airport police (the closest police agency) to report a suspected drunk driver. David identified herself as a Clitheroe employee, she explained that an intoxicated driver had just left the Clitheroe premises, and she gave the description of the vehicle. But David did not identify Pletcher as the driver, nor did she reveal that the driver had been a Clitheroe patient.

Because the content of Ms. David's conversation with the police dispatcher plays such a prominent role in Pletcher's argument on appeal, we include a transcription of that conversation in this footnote.[1]

Airport police officers responded to this call. They located a Land Rover coming from the direction of Point Woronzof, and they observed that this Land Rover had no front license plate, so they performed a traffic stop. (State law requires that a car's license plates be displayed at both the front and the rear.[2])

When the police asked the driver for his operator's license, the driver produced a license that identified him as John W. Pletcher. Pletcher was the sole occupant of the Land Rover. There was an empty bottle of vodka underneath a blanket on the passenger seat.

Pletcher's eyes were bloodshot, and his speech was noticeably slurred. He performed poorly on the horizontal gaze nystagmus test and one other field sobriety test, and he stated that he " could not" perform a third field sobriety test. The police then arrested Pletcher for driving under the influence. A subsequent breath test showed that Pletcher's blood alcohol content was .180 percent (more than twice the legal limit).

Because Pletcher had two prior convictions for driving under the influence within the preceding ten years, the State took Pletcher's case to the grand jury, seeking an indictment for felony driving under the influence.[3]

Both Marx and David testified at the grand jury. Neither of them identified Pletcher during their testimony, nor did they mention the fact that Pletcher had received treatment at Clitheroe. Instead, they described their contact with " an individual" on the Clitheroe premises -- an individual who was noticeably intoxicated, and who left the premises in his motor vehicle.

(During his testimony, Robert Marx mentioned the fact that the individual in question " was known to us", and Marx implied that he personally had had prior contacts with this individual. But Marx never identified the context in which this " individual" was known to him or the other people at Clitheroe.)

The testimony identifying Pletcher as the driver of the vehicle (and confirming his intoxication)

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was given by a police officer who participated in the traffic stop.

The grand jury indicted Pletcher for felony driving under the influence. Following a jury trial, Pletcher ...


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