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Stiffarm v. State

Court of Appeals of Alaska

November 28, 2014


Appeal from the Superior Court, Third Judicial District, Kenai, Carl Bauman, Judge. Trial Court No. 3KN-09-1509 CR.

Andrew Steiner, Bend, Oregon, for the Appellant.

Diane L. Wendlandt, 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.[*] Judge ALLARD.


Page 1022

ALLARD, Judge..

Following a jury trial, Anthony W. Stiffarm Jr., a prisoner at Wildwood Correctional Center, was convicted of three counts of second-degree sexual assault for sexually assaulting a woman in the prison stairwell. The sole issue at trial was identity -- whether the assaults were committed by Stiffarm or by someone else.

Stiffarm raises three main claims on appeal, all of which relate to the victim's identification of Stiffarm as her assailant. First, Stiffarm argues that the victim's identification of him based on a single photograph shown to her by corrections officers shortly after the assault should have been excluded as unreliable because it was the product of an " unnecessarily suggestive" identification procedure. Second, he argues that the court erred by instructing the jury at the State's request that this single-photo identification procedure was " legal and lawful." Third, he argues that the court violated his constitutional rights and his right to discovery under Alaska Criminal Rule 16 by refusing to compel the Department of Corrections to produce information about other inmates housed in the prison at the time of the sexual assaults, including booking photos, so that he could use that information to challenge the reliability and accuracy of the victim's identification of him.

We conclude that additional proceedings are required to determine whether Stiffarm was entitled to the discovery he requested

Page 1023

from the Department of Corrections and, if so, whether the court's refusal to compel that discovery prejudiced Stiffarm's case. Because the superior court's resolution of these issues may entitle Stiffarm to a new trial, we conclude that it is premature to address Stiffarm's other claims of error.

Factual and procedural background

K.B. worked as a tutor in Building Ten of the Wildwood Correctional Center, a medium and minimum security facility in Kenai. At approximately 8:50 a.m. on July 22, 2009, shortly after K.B. arrived at work, an inmate assaulted her on a stairwell landing between the second and third floors in Building Ten. The inmate placed his hand on her genital area and squeezed her breast underneath her bra.

After assaulting K.B., the inmate climbed up the stairs to the third floor, brushing by two other inmates who were descending the stairs to the second floor. These other inmates discovered K.B. on the landing, visibly shaken and in a state of shock. Neither of the two inmates knew the name of the inmate who had brushed by them on the stairs.

K.B. went to the shift supervisor's office to report the assault. She was crying and upset. When asked to describe her assailant, she described him simply as a " round-faced native." While in the shift supervisor's office, K.B. looked at a wall display of the booking photographs of all 500 inmates in Wildwood, including the 256 inmates in Building Ten where the assault took place. K.B. was unable to focus and unable to identify anyone.

After a few minutes, K.B. was moved to a break room. Because some of the corrections officers suspected that Stiffarm might be the assailant, primarily because of his prior criminal history and the fact that he fit the general description of a " round-faced native," Stiffarm's booking photograph was taken off the wall display and shown individually to K.B. to see if she could identify him as the man who assaulted her. K.B. immediately identified the 1" x 1" booking photograph of Stiffarm as depicting her assailant. K.B. was not shown photographs of any other inmates.

The prison staff then reviewed a surveillance video that covered part of the third-floor hallway and part of the doorway leading to the stairwell. (At the time of the assault, there were no surveillance videos in the stairway itself.) This video showed various inmates walking through the hallway. At about 8:48:48 a.m., Stiffarm appears to enter the third-floor stairwell. A little over a minute later, at 8:50:03 a.m., the two other inmates enter the stairwell. Twenty-three seconds later, at 8:50:23 a.m., Stiffarm appears to exit the third-floor stairwell, walk down the hallway, and enter his room. Twenty-six seconds later, at 8:50:59 a.m., one of the other two inmates exits the stairwell, walks down the hall, and reports the assault to a corrections officer. At 8:51:41 a.m., the corrections officer can be seen running toward the stairwell entrance.

The discovery dispute

Early in the pretrial litigation of this case, Stiffarm filed a motion under Alaska Criminal Rule 16 asking the trial court to compel the Department of Corrections to disclose " a list of inmates at Wildwood Correctional Center, Building 10 ... with corresponding booking photos and biographical data including ethnicity, height, weight, eye, and hair color." Stiffarm argued that he needed this information to properly evaluate the procedures used to ...

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