Appeal from the Superior Court, Fourth Judicial District Trial Court No. 4BE-12-1225 CR, Bethel, Charles W. Ray Jr., Judge.
Elizabeth T. Burke, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Special Prosecutions and Appeals, Anchorage, and Michael C. Geraghty, Attorney General, Juneau, for the Appellant.
Sharon Barr, Assistant Public Defender, and Quinlan Steiner, Public Defender, Anchorage, for the Appellee
Before: Mannheimer, Chief Judge, and Allard and Kossler, Judges.
The defendant, William Quiciq Pete, is alleged to have assaulted his girlfriend. The State originally charged Pete with misdemeanor assault, but the State filed amended charges of felony assault just a few days before Pete was scheduled to be tried on the misdemeanor charge. The superior court later dismissed these felony charges on the ground that the State's charging decision was vindictive. The State appeals that ruling.
The record shows that the superior court committed two errors. One was an error of substantive law, and the other was a procedural error.
When the parties litigated the question of prosecutorial vindictiveness in the superior court, their litigation focused on a legal issue: namely, which party bore the burden of proof on the question of prosecutorial vindictiveness? Pete took the position that the facts of his case raised a presumption of vindictiveness, and thus the State bore the burden of affirmatively disproving vindictiveness. The State, on the other hand, took the position that the facts of the case did not raise a presumption of vindictiveness, and thus it was Pete's burden to affirmatively prove that the charging decision was the product of vindictiveness.
The superior court agreed with Pete that the facts of this case gave rise to a presumption of vindictiveness, and that the State therefore bore the burden of affirmatively proving a lack of vindictiveness. As we explain in this opinion, the superior court's ruling on this issue was mistaken. The facts of this case do not give rise to a presumption of vindictiveness, and thus it was Pete's burden to affirmatively establish actual vindictiveness.
After issuing this mistaken ruling as to which party bore the burden of proof, the superior court then committed a procedural error. In response to the court's ruling that the State bore the burden of proof on the question of prosecutorial vindictiveness, the State asked the superior court to hold an evidentiary hearing so that the State could offer evidence to rebut Pete's assertion of vindictiveness. But the superior court refused to hold an evidentiary hearing. The court reasoned that the State had already declined the opportunity to present any evidence it might have on this issue.
But as we have explained, the litigation up to that point had focused on the question of which side bore the burden of proof. At the earlier hearing, both sides took the position that they were not required to present any evidence because the other side bore the burden of proof. And at the conclusion of that hearing, the superior court simply took this burden-of-proof issue under advisement. The court did not warn the parties that they should present their evidence at that hearing, in case the court later ruled against them on the question of the burden of proof.
Given this procedural posture, no matter which way the superior court ruled on the question of the burden of proof, the court was obliged to offer the losing party an opportunity to offer evidence in support of their position.
In sum, we conclude that the facts of this case do not create a presumption of prosecutorial vindictiveness, that Pete bears the burden of affirmatively proving actual vindictiveness, and that Pete must now be given the opportunity to litigate this issue.
A more detailed look at the underlying facts
William Quiciq Pete allegedly assaulted his girlfriend in the village of Akiak on November 27, 2012. Three days later, on November 30th, a local village public safety officer filed a misdemeanor complaint against Pete, charging him with fourth-degree assault.
Pete was not arraigned on this complaint until January 4, 2013. At the arraignment, the prosecutor informed Pete (and the district court) that the State intended to take Pete's case to the grand jury and seek an indictment for third-degree assault (a felony), because Pete had two or more prior convictions for assault within the preceding ten years. See AS 11.41.220(a)(5).
However, the State did not immediately take Pete's case to the grand jury, so the district court held a trial call on the misdemeanor charge on March 5, 2013. Neither the prosecutor nor the defense attorney who appeared at ...