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State v. Seigle

Court of Appeals of Alaska

March 17, 2017

STATE OF ALASKA, Appellant,
v.
JAMES R. SEIGLE, Appellee.

         Appeal from the Superior Court, Third Judicial District, Anchorage, Trial Court No. 3AN-10-4009 CR Philip R. Volland, Judge, and the Statewide Three-Judge Panel, Eric Smith, John Suddock, and Trevor N. Stephens, Judges.

          Donald Soderstrom, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Criminal Appeals, Anchorage, and Michael C. Geraghty, Attorney General, Juneau, for the Appellant

          Shelley K. Chaffin, Law Office of Shelley K. Chaffin, Anchorage, for the Appellee.

          Before: Mannheimer, Chief Judge, Allard, Judge, and Hanley, District Court Judge. [*]

          OPINION

          ALLARD, Judge

         James R. Seigle was convicted of first-degree sexual assault[1] for coercing his girlfriend to engage in oral sex. We affirmed Seigle's conviction in a previous decision.[2] The present appeal deals with Seigle's sentence.

         As a first felony offender, Seigle faced a presumptive term of 20 to 30 years for this crime.[3] At sentencing, Superior Court Judge Philip Volland found two bases for referring Seigle's case to the statewide three-judge sentencing panel. First, Judge Volland concluded that Seigle had proved the non-statutory mitigating factor of extraordinary potential for rehabilitation. Second, Judge Volland concluded that it would be manifestly unjust to impose a sentence within the applicable presumptive range in Seigle's case.

         At the time of sentencing, Seigle was fifty-four years old and employed. He had a single prior criminal conviction - a misdemeanor conviction in California from more than ten years ago for "false personation." In his sentencing remarks, Judge Volland (who had also been the trial judge) expressed his confidence that the events recounted at Seigle's trial were "one-time events, most likely never to be repeated, " and that the sentencing goal of rehabilitation was already satisfied, in the sense that Seigle's criminal behavior would not happen again.[4]

         Judge Volland concluded that Seigle was the type of defendant that "the non-statutory mitigator [of extraordinary potential for rehabilitation] is intended to recognize." The judge further found that manifest injustice would result if Seigle received a sentence within the presumptive range of 20 to 30 years. The judge expressed his opinion that "a 10-year sentence [would be] enough, " given the facts of this case and given Seigle's history and individual characteristics. However, Judge Volland did not have the authority to impose such a sentence, so he referred Seigle's case to the three-judge sentencing panel, which does have that authority.[5]

         At the conclusion of the sentencing proceedings before the three-judge panel, the panel rejected Seigle's proposed non-statutory mitigating factor of extraordinary potential for rehabilitation. But the panel agreed with Judge Volland that it would be manifestly unjust to sentence Seigle to a term of imprisonment within the 20-to 30-year presumptive range. The panel ultimately sentenced Seigle to 20 years with 5 years suspended (15 years to serve) - a sentence that the panel independently found was "appropriate under the Chaney criteria."[6]

         In reaching its sentencing decision, the three-judge panel relied in part on this Court's decision in Collins v. State.[7] Because of the three-judge panel's reliance on Collins, the State now challenges Seigle's sentence as illegal.[8]

         As we explain more fully in this opinion, the State contends that our decision in Collins was "never the law in Alaska" - and that, because the three-judge panel relied on Collins when it sentenced Seigle, Seigle's sentence is so fundamentally flawed that the double jeopardy clause of the Alaska Constitution does not protect it from reversal on appeal.

         For the reasons explained in this opinion, we reject the State's arguments and we affirm Seigle's sentence.

         Our decision in Collins v. State

         To explain the State's claim that our decision in Collins was "never the law in Alaska, " we must first describe the substance and the procedural history of that decision.

         In 2006, the Alaska Legislature greatly increased the penalty ranges for all sexual felonies - based in part on the presumptions that a person convicted of a sex offense typically had a history of other undisclosed sex offenses and that a person convicted of a sex offense typically had unusually poor prospects for rehabilitation.[9] In Collins, this Court concluded (by a two-to-one vote) that, because these legislative presumptions might not be true in a particular defendant's case, a defendant convicted of a sex offense should be given the opportunity to show (by clear and convincing evidence) that he or she had no history of prior sex offenses, or that he or she had normal prospects for rehabilitation.[10] If a defendant could make these showings, this might entitle the defendant to have his or her case referred to the statewide three-judge sentencing panel - the judicial body authorized to impose sentences outside the normal constraints of presumptive sentencing.[11]

         Judge Bolger dissented from the decision in Collins. In his dissent, Judge Bolger argued that it was illogical to conclude that manifest injustice exists when a felony sex offender with moderate prospects for rehabilitation is sentenced to a term of imprisonment within the established presumptive ranges because "the legislature recognized that sex offenses can have a serious impact on the victim and society."[12]Judge Bolger reasoned that a sex offender with moderate prospects for rehabilitation "may still pose an unacceptable danger to the community, " and that defendants should therefore be required to show the same "particularly favorable" prospects for rehabilitation as other offenders in order to establish a non-statutory mitigating factor justifying referral to the three-judge sentencing panel.[13]

         The Collins decision was issued on November 2, 2012. The three-judge panel held its hearing in Seigle's case two weeks later.

         By that time, the State had already filed a petition for hearing in the Alaska Supreme Court, asking that court to review this Court's decision in Collins.

         On February 12, 2013, about two months after the three-judge panel sentenced Seigle, the supreme court granted the State's petition and agreed to review Collins.[14] However, one year later, after the legislature amended the three-judge panel sentencing statutes in response to Collins, the supreme court dismissed the State's petition as improvidently granted.[15]

         The legislature's response to Collins

         In the spring of 2013, while the State's petition for hearing was still pending before the supreme court, the Alaska Legislature responded to our decision in Collins by enacting Session Law Act (SLA) 2013, Chapter 43. In section 1(b) of this session law, the legislature declared that it had never intended to create new grounds for referring a felony sex offender's case to the three-judge panel:

(b) The legislature finds that:
(1) in 2006, the legislature did not intend, by [enacting increased penalties for sexual felonies], and the legislature does not now intend[, ] to create new or additional means for a defendant convicted of a sexual felony and sentenced under AS 12.55.125(i) to obtain referral to a three-judge panel;
(2) the legislature did not, in 2006, intend nor does the legislature now intend for a court to create new or additional means for a defendant convicted of a sexual felony and sentenced under AS 12.55.125(i) to obtain referral to a three-judge panel.[16]

         In section 1(c) of this session law, the legislature further declared that it intended to overturn the majority decision in Colli ns and to endorse the position expressed in Judge Bolger's dissenting opinion:

(c) It is the intent of the legislature in AS 12.55.165, as amended by sec. 22 of this Act, and AS 12.55.175, as amended by sec. 23 of this Act, to overturn the majority decision in Collins v. State, 287 P.3d 791 (Alaska App. 2012), and to endorse the dissenting opinion in the same case.[17]

         To effect this legislative intent, the legislature amended AS 12.55.165 (the statute governing referrals to the three-judge panel) by adding subsection (c) that restricts a sentencing judge's authority to refer a case to the panel:

(c) A court may not refer a case to [the] three-judge panel ... if the defendant is being sentenced for a sexual felony under AS 12.55.125(i) and the request for the referral is based solely on the claim that the defendant, either singly or in combination, has
(1) prospects for rehabilitation that are less than extraordinary; or
(2) a history free of unprosecuted, undocumented, or undetected sexual offenses. At the same time, the legislature enacted a corresponding amendment to AS 12.55.175 (the statute defining the authority of the three-judge panel) by adding subsection (f). This new subsection states in pertinent part:
(f) A defendant being sentenced for a sexual felony under AS 12.55.125(i) may not establish, nor may the three-judge panel find under (b) of this section or any other provision of law, that manifest injustice would result from imposition of a sentence within the presumptive range based solely on the claim that the defendant, either singly or in combination, has
(1) prospects for rehabilitation that are less than extraordinary; or
(2) a history free of unprosecuted, undocumented, or undetected sexual offenses.

         These new laws went into effect on July 1, 2013, more than seven months after Seigle was sentenced in this case. The following February, the Alaska Supreme Court dismissed the State's petition for hearing in Collins as improvidently granted.[18]

         The State's argument that Collins was never the law in Alaska

         As we explained earlier in this opinion, the State takes the position that Seigle's sentence is illegal because, when the three-judge panel sentenced Seigle, the panel relied in part on this Court's decision in Collins and, according to the State, our decision in Collins was never the law in Alaska.

         The State's argument that Collins was never the law in Alaska hinges on its contention that this Court's published decisions have no precedential value until this Court's judgment "takes effect" under Alaska Appellate Rules 507(b) and 512(a) - that is, until any petition for hearing to the Alaska Supreme Court is resolved and jurisdiction returns to the trial court.

         Appellate Rule 507(b) declares that, unless this Court orders otherwise, a judgment issued by this Court "takes effect and full jurisdiction returns to the trial court on the day specified in Rule 512(a) for return of the record [to the trial court]." Appellate Rule 512(a) defines when the record on appeal is returned to the trial court at the conclusion of an appeal. Subsection (a)(2) of this rule states that, in Court of Appeals cases where a party petitions the supreme court to review our decision, the record on appeal shall be returned to the trial court on the day after the petition for hearing is denied or, if the petition is granted, on the day after the time expires for seeking rehearing of the supreme court's decision on the merits.

         The State argues that, under Rules 507(b) and 512(a), this Court's decision in Collins never took effect. Here is the State's reasoning:

         When this Court issued Collins, the Court did not exercise our authority under Rule 507(b) to declare that our decision in Collins would take effect on some date other than the date established by Rules 507(b) and 512(a). Thus, our judgment in Collins took effect on the date established in Rule 512(a) for return of the record to the trial court. Moreover, because the State filed a petition for hearing in Collins, and because the supreme court initially granted that petition, the time for returning the record to the trial court did not arrive until February 26, 2014 - the day after the supreme court dismissed the State's petition as improvidently granted. And by that time (indeed, months before that time), the Alaska Legislature had enacted SLA 2013, chapter 43, which amended AS 12.55.165 and AS 12.55.175 in response to Collins.

         Thus, the State concludes, our judgment in Collins never took effect because the effect of our judgment was stayed until late February 2014 and because the legislature amended the pertinent sentencing statutes effective July 1, 2013.

         Why we reject the ...


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