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State v. Stidston

Court of Appeals of Alaska

February 20, 2015

STATE OF ALASKA, Petitioner,
v.
TRISTAN MORGAN STIDSTON, Respondent

Petition for Review from the Superior Court, Fourth Judicial District, Fairbanks, Bethany S. Harbison, Judge. Court of Appeals No. A-11734 Trial Court No. 4FA-13-925 CR.

Diane L. Wendlandt, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Criminal Appeals, Anchorage, and Michael C. Geraghty, Attorney General, Juneau, for the Petitioner.

William R. Satterberg, Jr., The Law Offices of William R. Satterberg, Jr., Fairbanks, for the Respondent.

Katherine J. Hansen, Victims' Rights Attorney, Office of Victims' Rights, and Renee McFarland, Assistant Public Defender, and Quinlan Steiner, Public Defender, Anchorage, as amici curiae.

Before: Mannheimer, Chief Judge, Allard and Kossler, Judges.

OPINION

Page 912

ALLARD, Judge .

Tristan Morgan Stidston is charged with sexually assaulting P.E. and tampering with physical evidence following that assault.[1] The State filed a motion under Alaska's rape shield law asking the superior court to preclude Stidston from offering evidence of P.E.'s past sexual conduct at trial, unless Stidston made a prior application to the court.

Under Alaska's rape shield statute, AS 12.45.045, a criminal defendant charged with a sexual offense who wishes to present evidence of the complaining witness's sexual history must ask the court for permission to present that evidence at least five days before trial -- unless the defendant shows " good cause" to make the application at a later date.

When Stidston's case was litigated in the superior court, the State took the position that the only " good cause" for making a late application under AS 12.45.045(a) was if the defendant discovered the relevant information only after the statutory deadline had passed. Stidston did not dispute this reading of the statute; instead he argued that the statute, so construed, violated his right against self-incrimination because it required him to disclose his defense before trial.

The superior court adopted the parties' reading of the statute and ruled that the statute, construed in this manner, was unconstitutional.

The State petitioned for review of that decision. At our request, the Alaska Office of Victims' Rights and the Alaska Public Defender Agency also submitted briefs as amici curiae. The State and amici curiae reach the same conclusion: that the reading of the statute the parties adopted in the superior court was wrong; that AS 12.45.045(a) does, in fact, contain a general good cause exception to the statutory deadline; and that this exception allows a court to consider a mid-trial application to present evidence of the complaining witness's sexual history even if the defendant was aware of that information before the statutory deadline. We agree with this construction of the statute, and we therefore reverse the superior court's order ruling the statute unconstitutional.

Why we hold that AS 12.45.045(a) contains a general good cause exception

As we explained, AS 12.45.045(a) limits the right of a criminal defendant charged with a sexual crime to introduce evidence of the complaining witness's sexual history. The statute ...


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