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Municipality of Anchorage v. Brooks

Court of Appeals of Alaska

April 14, 2017

MUNICIPALITY OF ANCHORAGE, Petitioner,
v.
MARK ANTHONY BROOKS, Respondent.

         Petition for Review from the District Court No. 3AN-16-5597 CR, Third Judicial District, Anchorage, Douglas Kossler, Judge.

          Daniel E. Doty, Assistant Municipal Prosecutor, and William Falsey, Municipal Attorney, Anchorage, for the Petitioner.

          Shaul L. Goldberg, Denali Law Group, Anchorage, for the Respondent.

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

          OPINION

          MANNHEIMER Judge.

         This past year, the Alaska Legislature enacted SLA 2016, chapter 36 - popularly known as "Senate Bill 91" - which effected a wide-ranging revision of our criminal statutes. One of the provisions of this law modified the sentencing range for class A misdemeanors.

         Previously, the statute governing misdemeanor sentencing provided a penalty of up to 1 year's imprisonment for all persons convicted of a class A misdemeanor. Now, however, the maximum penalty for a class A misdemeanor is 30 days' imprisonment unless the defendant's case meets one or more of the criteria listed in AS 12.55.135(a)(1).[1]

         In the present case, we are asked to interpret one of those criteria - subsection (1)(C) of AS 12.55.135(a) - which declares that the maximum penalty for a class A misdemeanor is 1 year's imprisonment if "[the] defendant has past criminal convictions for conduct violative of criminal laws ... similar in nature to the offense for which the defendant is being sentenced".

         The defendant in this case, Mark Anthony Brooks, was charged by the Municipality of Anchorage with operating a motor vehicle under the influence. He has one prior conviction for this offense. At Brooks's change-of-plea hearing, the question arose whether Brooks faces a maximum sentence of 1 year's imprisonment under subsection (1)(C) - i.e., the subsection quoted in the preceding paragraph.

         The district court ruled that Brooks is not covered by subsection (1)(C), and that his maximum sentence is therefore 30 days.

         The district court based this ruling on the fact that subsection (1)(C) speaks of "convictions" in the plural. The court acknowledged that Alaska law contains a provision which declares that, when a court interprets a statute, the court should assume that the singular form of nouns includes the plural, and that the plural form of nouns includes the singular. See AS 01.10.050(b): "Words in the singular number include the plural, and words in the plural number include the singular."

         In the present case, however, the district court concluded that it should not follow this rule of construction when interpreting AS 12.55.135(a)(1)(C). The district court declared that the "plain, ordinary meaning" of the word "convictions" is "more than one conviction." The court also declared that the Municipality had failed to offer any legislative history affirmatively proving that the Alaska Legislature intended the word "convictions" to be interpreted in the singular as well as the plural. Thus, the district court concluded, the category of defendants with prior "convictions" does not encompass defendants who have only a single conviction.

         We conclude that the district court's decision is incorrect.

         First, we disagree with the district court that the plain or ordinary meaning of the word "convictions" is strictly limited to "two or more convictions", and that people understand this word to exclude a single conviction. For example, we seriously doubt that any judge who asked a defense attorney, "Does your client have prior convictions?" would have much patience with an attorney who answered this ...


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