CHARLES P. MORAN, Appellant,
STATE OF ALASKA, Appellee.
from the Superior Court, Third Judicial District, Trial Court
No. 3KN-11-1025 CR Kenai, Anna M. Moran, Judge.
Charles P. Moran, in propria persona, Soldotna, for the
Patton Kim, Assistant Public Defender, and Quinlan Steiner,
Public Defender, Anchorage, for the Alaska Public Defender
Agency, appearing as amicus curiae aligned with the
Terisia Chleborad, Assistant Attorney General, Office of
Criminal Appeals, Anchorage, and Michael C. Geraghty and
Craig W. Richards, Attorneys General, Juneau, for the
Before: Mannheimer, Chief Judge, Allard, Judge, and Hanley,
District Court Judge. [*]
early morning of June 26, 2011, Charles P. Moran was arrested
for assaulting his wife Amanda. Later that day, Moran
initiated the first of seven telephone calls that he made to
his wife from jail.
told Amanda that he loved her. When Amanda complained about
her injuries, and when she blamed Moran for causing those
injuries, Moran told Amanda that she had been injured by
falling down the stairs, and then he told her that he did not
want to say anything more about this matter over the phone.
was subsequently convicted of two criminal charges: one count
of third-degree assault,  and one count of second-degree unlawful
contact.  Moran now challenges the validity of those
regard to Moran's unlawful contact conviction, the
statute that defines this crime, AS 11.56.755(a), declares
that a defendant commits the crime of second-degree unlawful
contact if, having been arrested for one of the crimes
defined in AS 11.41 ("offenses against the person")
or for any other crime of domestic violence, the defendant
"initiates communication or attempts to initiate
communication with the alleged victim of the crime"
before the defendant's initial appearance in front of a
judge or magistrate (or before the dismissal of the criminal
charge, if that occurs first).
argument on appeal hinges on the fact that this statute does
not expressly require the State to prove that a defendant was
ever notified that it would be illegal for the
defendant to communicate with (or attempt to communicate
with) the alleged victim. Moran argues that the statute is
unconstitutional because it does not require proof of notice.
specifically, Moran contends that, unless defendants are told
about this statutory prohibition, defendants would have no
reason to think that it would be unlawful for them to
communicate with the victim. Thus, Moran argues, the
statutory definition of the crime violates the constitutional
guarantee of due process of law.
State responds that Moran is essentially arguing that his
conviction should be set aside because he was unaware that
there was a statute that made his conduct a crime. Relying on
the maxim, "ignorance of the law is no excuse", the
State argues that it does not matter whether Moran knew that
his act of telephoning his wife constituted a crime.
reasons explained in this opinion, we conclude that Moran has
the better of this argument. Before the State could lawfully
impose a criminal penalty on Moran for telephoning his
spouse, the State was required (at a minimum) to prove that
Moran was told that it was unlawful for him to contact his
spouse. We therefore reverse Moran's conviction for
second-degree unlawful contact.
regard to Moran's third-degree assault conviction, Moran
argues that the trial judge improperly allowed the State to
rely on inadmissible evidence at trial, and he also argues
that his trial on this charge should have been bifurcated
(because one element of the State's proof was that Moran
had prior convictions for assault). For the reasons explained
in this opinion, we conclude that neither of those claims has
constitutional limits on the doctrine that "ignorance of
the law is no excuse"
well-known maxim, "Ignorance of the law is no
excuse", encapsulates two inter-related principles: (1)
that the government normally is not required to prove that a
criminal defendant was aware of the fact that a statute
prohibited the defendant's conduct, and (2) that a
defendant normally is not allowed to defend a criminal charge
by asserting ignorance of the governing law.
two principles clearly apply when the conduct for which the
defendant is being punished is "malum in
se" - that is, "[conduct] which reasoning
members of society regard as condemnable". Hentzner
v. State, 613 P.2d 821, 826 (Alaska 1980). In such
cases, a defendant's "awareness of the commission of
the [prohibited] act necessarily carries with it an awareness
of wrongdoing", and it does not matter whether the
defendant was subjectively aware that there was a criminal
statute covering their conduct. Ibid.
supreme court described this general rule in Alex v.
State, 484 P.2d 677 (Alaska 1971):
[The government need not prove a person's] awareness that
[his] given conduct ... is a "wrongdoing" in the
sense that it is proscribed by law, but rather ... an
awareness that one is committing the specific acts which are
defined by law as a "wrongdoing". It is ... no
defense that one was not aware [that] his acts ... were
proscribed by law. So long as one acts intentionally, with
cognizance of his behavior, he acts with the requisite
awareness of wrongdoing. In the words of [United States
Supreme Court] Justice Holmes:
If a man intentionally adopts certain conduct in certain
circumstances known to him, and that conduct is forbidden by
the law under those circumstances, he intentionally breaks
the law in the only ...