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Olson v. State

Court of Appeals of Alaska

February 17, 2017

DENNIS OLSON, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF ALASKA, Appellee.

         Appeal from the District Court, Third Judicial District, Trial Court No. 3PA-13-3129 CR, Palmer, David L. Zwink, Judge.

          Lars Johnson, Assistant Public Defender, and Quinlan Steiner, Public Defender, Anchorage, for the Appellant.

          Lindsey Burton, Assistant District Attorney, Palmer, and Craig W. Richards, Attorney General, Juneau, for the Appellee.

          Before: Mannheimer, Chief Judge, Allard, Judge, and Suddock, Superior Court Judge. [*]

          OPINION

          MANNHEIMER Judge.

         In November 2013, Stephanie Olson obtained a 20-day domestic violence protective order against her husband, Dennis Olson. Under the terms of this restraining order, Olson was prohibited from being within a quarter-mile of Stephanie's residence.

         At that time, Stephanie was living in the marital home and Olson was living in a trailer on the same property (within a quarter-mile of the house). When the State Troopers served Olson with the restraining order, they informed him that he was required to leave the property - that he would either have to move the trailer or find another place to live.

         Olson left the property without taking anything he needed for the cold weather. Several hours later, he returned to the trailer and went to sleep. He was still there when the troopers returned to the property the next day around noon.

         Based on this episode, Olson was charged with violating the protective order, AS 11.56.740(a). At trial, Olson defended by asserting the defense of necessity: he argued that he needed to return to the trailer to avoid hypothermia or other injury arising from his exposure to the elements.

         The jury rejected Olson's necessity defense and convicted him of violating the protective order.

         Olson now appeals, arguing that the fairness of his trial was prejudiced by one of the trial judge's evidentiary rulings. At Olson's trial, over the defense attorney's objection, the trial judge decided to let the prosecutor introduce a copy of the restraining order. One section of this order - Section D - showed that the judge who issued the order did so on the basis that there was probable cause to believe that Olson had committed several serious crimes.

         We agree with Olson that the trial judge should have redacted the restraining order to delete these unproved allegations of criminal conduct. But for the reasons explained in this opinion, we conclude that this error was harmless under the facts of Olson's case.

         The trial judge's decision to let the State introduce evidence that the judge who issued the restraining order found probable cause to believe that Olson had committed other serious crimes

         Olson's attorney anticipated that the prosecutor would offer the restraining order into evidence, so (before the beginning of the State's case) the defense attorney asked the trial judge to give the jury a redacted version of the restraining order - a version that did not include the "Findings" listed on page 2 of the order.

         The Alaska Court System has designed a form order forjudges to use when they hear an application for a domestic violence restraining order. Section D of this form order is labeled "Findings". Section D offers the judge a series of check-boxes to use when describing the basis for issuing the restraining order.

         In Olson's case, the second half of Section D looked like this:

2. The court finds probable cause to believe that the respondent committed, or attempted to commit, the following crime(s) involving domestic violence against the petitioner:
[] assault or reckless endangerment
[] harassment (telephonic or electronic)
[] stalking
[] terroristic threatening
[] violating a protective order
[] criminal mischief
[] sexual offense
[] arson or criminally negligent ...

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