Petition for Review from the Superior Court, Third Judicial District, Anchorage, Philip R. Volland, Judge., Trial Court No. 3AN-14-1088 CR
Josie Garton, Assistant Public Defender, and Quinlan Steiner, Public Defender, Anchorage, for the Petitioner.
Diane L. Wendlandt, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Criminal Appeals, Anchorage, and Craig W. Richards, Attorney General, Juneau, for the Respondent.
Before: Mannheimer, Chief Judge, and Allard and Kossler, Judges.
This petition for review presents the question of whether the trial court had the authority to reject a plea agreement as too lenient because the State, as part of the agreement, gave up the opportunity to prove aggravating factors, thereby limiting the court to a sentence within the applicable presumptive sentencing range. For the reasons explained here, we conclude that the court had no authority to reject the plea agreement on this ground, and that doing so impermissibly infringed on the State's charging discretion. W e therefore reverse the superior court's decision and remand for sentencing in accordance with the parties' plea agreement.
Dimitrios Nickolaos Alexiadis was charged with three counts of second-degree assault for fracturing his infant son's leg, arm, and ribs. The parties reached a Rule 11 agreement in which Alexiadis was to plead guilty to one consolidated count of second-degree assault, admitting all the conduct charged in the complaint, agreeing not to assert any mitigating factors, waiving his right to request referral to the three-judge sentencing panel, and agreeing to pay restitution. The State, in turn, agreed to dismiss the other two charges and agreed not to pursue any aggravating factors for the purpose of obtaining a sentence above the applicable presumptive sentencing range of 1 to 3 years' imprisonment.
The superior court initially accepted Alexiadis's guilty plea, but after the court reviewed the presentence report, the court rejected the plea agreement as too lenient. The court explained that it was rejecting the agreement because the State's decision not to raise aggravating factors - in particular, AS 12.55.155(c)(5) (particularly vulnerable victim) and AS 12.55.155(c)(18)(A) (offense committed against a member of the same social unit) - meant that the court's sentencing authority was limited to the 1- to 3-year presumptive range, a range that the court concluded was too lenient under the facts of the case.
Alexiadis filed a motion urging the court to accept the plea agreement, and arguing that the court had no authority to reject the agreement on this ground. The superior court denied this motion, and Alexiadis then filed this petition for review.
The State initially opposed this petition, but the State now agrees with Alexiadis that the superior court had no authority to reject the plea agreement on this basis.
Why we conclude that the superior court had no authority to reject the parties' plea agreement on the ground that the State agreed not to raise aggravating factors
As we have explained, Alexiadis claims that the superior court exceeded its authority by rejecting the parties' plea agreement, and the State agrees with Alexiadis. When the State concedes error in a criminal case, we must independently review the record and the law to determine if the concession is well-founded.
Under the laws governing presumptive sentencing in Alaska, a court may not impose a sentence above the applicable presumptive range absent proof of at least one statutory aggravating factor codified in AS 12.55.155(c). As originally conceived by the legislature, these statutory aggravating factors were all to be litigated to the sentencing judge, sitting without a jury, and had to be proven by clear and convincing evidence. But in Blakely v. Washington, the United States Supreme Court held that it violated the Sixth Amendment's guarantee of a jury trial to subject a criminal defendant to an enhanced maximum sentence for an offense based on aggravating factors that had not been proved to a jury ...