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Wright v. State

Court of Appeals of Alaska

March 27, 2015

SEAN WRIGHT, Appellant,

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Appeal from the Superior Court, Third Judicial District, Anchorage, Philip R. Volland and Michael Spaan, Judges. Trial Court No. 3AN-99-9876 CR.

Marjorie Mock, under contract with the Public Defender Agency, and Quinlan Steiner, Public Defender, Anchorage, for the Appellant.

Timothy W. Terrell, 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 Smith, Superior Court Judge.[*]


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Sean Wright was convicted of one count of first-degree sexual abuse of a minor and multiple counts of second-degree sexual abuse of a minor for conduct involving his stepdaughter and the daughter of a prior long-term girlfriend. In this appeal, Wright argues that his constitutional right to a speedy trial under the federal and state constitutions was violated because there was almost five years of delay between the filing of the felony information charging Wright with this conduct and Wright's ultimate arrest and subsequent indictment.

We conclude that Wright's speedy trial right claim under the federal constitution is without merit given the generally accepted rule that a felony information filed in a court without jurisdiction to try the defendant is insufficient to trigger the protections of the Sixth Amendment's speedy trial provision. Our analysis is different, however, for Wright's speedy trial claim under the Alaska Constitution. Under our precedent, the filing of a felony information triggers the protections of the state constitutional right to a speedy trial.[1] We therefore conclude that Wright has a state constitutional speedy trial claim with regard to the pre-arrest, pre-indictment delay that occurred in his case.

However, for the reasons explained in this opinion, we conclude that a remand to the superior court is needed to properly resolve this claim. On remand, the superior court must take into account not only the five years of pre-arrest delay, which (as we explain) is fully attributable to the State, but also the five years of post-arrest delay, which the State claims is primarily attributable to Wright.

As a separate point on appeal in his co-counsel brief, Wright also argues that he is entitled to jail-time credit for the time he spent on electronic monitoring pending his trial. We find no merit to this claim and affirm the decision of the superior court on this issue.

Facts and procedural history

Evelyn Wright had three daughters from a previous marriage when she married Sean Wright in November 1996. The family lived in Anchorage from 1996 until the summer of 1998, when they moved to Wasilla.

That Halloween, the family had a big party. Before the party started, Evelyn went to look for ten-year-old K.A. K.A.'s bedroom door was locked. Wright, who was inside the room, opened the door and said he locked it because K.A. was fighting with her sister.

Approximately three months later, in early February 1999, after watching a video at school about pedophilia, K.A. told her mother that she was being sexually molested by Wright. She reported that Wright came into her room on Halloween, locked the door, took off his pants, and touched her vagina with his fingers and tongue.

Evelyn and K.A. confronted Wright about K.A.'s allegations. Wright claimed he did not remember doing anything to K.A. Wright moved out two weeks later. The day after Wright left, Evelyn called the police.

Alaska State Trooper Ruthan Josten was assigned to the case. K.A. told Josten that Wright touched her breasts and vagina with his fingers and mouth and rubbed his penis against her vagina. Evelyn told Josten that Wright may have also abused the daughter of his prior long-term girlfriend, M.C.

Josten contacted M.C., who told Josten that Wright sexually abused her in Anchorage from 1987-1989, and that she went to live with her biological father to get away from Wright. At trial, M.C. testified that Wright initially began by rubbing her back and fondling her breasts. Later, he grew bolder and began to touch her vagina; he would also rub his penis between her thighs without penetrating her or ejaculating.

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While the investigation into the sexual abuse was ongoing, Wright went to visit his brother in Arkansas. He subsequently decided to leave Alaska permanently.

In June 1999, after Wright left Alaska, Josten sent a report to the Palmer District Attorney's office requesting a warrant for Wright's arrest. That request was initially declined. Five months later, on November 12, 1999, the Office of Special Prosecutions and Appeals filed a criminal information charging Wright with eleven counts of sexual abuse of a minor. An arrest warrant was issued four days later.

The arrest warrant was entered into the Alaska Public Safety Information Network (APSIN), an Alaska-only database. However, even though the State was aware that Wright was living outside Alaska, the warrant did not designate Wright's offenses as extraditable, nor did the State enter the arrest warrant into the FBI's National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database. Josten apparently commented at the time that the State may have had financial reasons for not making the warrant extraditable.

From 2000 to 2004, Josten ran periodic searches for Wright in a national database that recorded driver's licenses, deaths, and other similar information. But Josten's searches were not comprehensive or consistent, and she failed to locate Wright.

Wright continued to communicate with Evelyn by telephone and mail during this time. He also received mail from the State of Alaska on other matters, including a notice of a hearing on the dissolution of his marriage to Evelyn from the Palmer trial court, a notice regarding his overdue student loans from the court system, and a death certificate that he requested from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

In addition, throughout this time, Wright worked at a number of nuclear facilities that required security clearances. To obtain these clearances, Wright provided his name, address, date of birth, and social security number, along with copies of his driver's license and social security card. Had the warrant for Wright's arrest been entered into the national NCIC database, Wright's employers would have discovered the arrest warrant and the sexual abuse charges.

On September 17, 2004, almost five years after the felony information was filed, Sergeant Iliodor Kozloff of the Alaska State Troopers received a voicemail inquiry about Wright from a manager at a nuclear facility in Minnesota. Kozloff ran Wright's name through the APSIN database and saw that there was a warrant for Wright's arrest. He also checked NCIC, but discovered that the warrant was not in that database. Kozloff contacted the District Attorney's office, which then made the decision to extradite Wright and to enter the warrant into NCIC. Kozloff arranged for the local sheriff's office to arrest Wright when he returned to the facility the next day.

Wright waived extradition, and the Alaska State Troopers brought Wright back to Alaska, where a grand jury indicted him on eighteen counts of first- and second-degree sexual abuse of a minor for conduct involving K.A., M.C., and a third girl, T.W. (The counts involving T.W. were later dismissed because the statute of limitations had already run.[2])

Just under a year after the grand jury issued its indictment, Wright filed a motion to dismiss the indictment, arguing that the almost five-year delay between the filing of the felony information and his arrest violated ...

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