JERRY L. COFFIN, Appellant,
STATE OF ALASKA, Appellee.
from the Superior Court, Second Judicial District, Trial
Court No. 2KB-13-379 CR, Kotzebue, Paul A. Roetman, Judge.
Bair, Assistant Public Advocate, Appeals and Statewide
Defense Section, and Richard Allen, Public Advocate,
Anchorage, for the Appellant.
A. Ringsmuth, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Criminal
Appeals, Anchorage, and Craig W. Richards, Attorney General,
Juneau, for the Appellee.
Before: Mannheimer, Chief Judge, Allard, Judge, and Suddock,
Superior Court Judge. [*]
L. Coffin was charged with third-degree sexual assault and
first-degree harassment. When the jury retired to deliberate on
these charges at Coffin's trial, the trial court excused,
but did not discharge, the one remaining alternate juror. The
court also instructed the alternate juror that he should not
discuss the case with anyone because he could still be
recalled to serve on the jury if one of the regularly seated
jurors became sick or otherwise unavailable to serve. This
procedure violated Alaska Criminal Rule 24(b), which requires
the trial court to discharge any remaining alternate jurors
once the jury retires to consider its verdict. However, neither
party objected to the judge's retention of the alternate
approximately three and one-half hours on the first day of
deliberations, the jury's deliberations were suspended
because one of the jurors had to address child care issues.
By the time that first juror returned, a different juror
required emergency medical care. Deliberations were therefore
suspended for the remainder of the day and the jury was sent
home with instructions to return the next morning.
the second juror's medical issues had not been resolved
by the following morning, the trial court summoned the
alternate juror to court and confirmed that the alternate
juror was still available to deliberate. The trial court
subsequently excused the juror who was ill, and replaced that
juror with the alternate juror. The trial court also
instructed the newly reconstituted jury to "reboot"
and "restart their deliberations" because the
alternate juror had not been part of its earlier
deliberations. Again, neither party objected to this
procedure or voiced any concerns with the court's
the newly reconstituted jury retired to deliberate, the trial
judge commented to both attorneys (outside the presence of
the jury) that he was sure that neither of the attorneys
"would like to redo [this trial] again, so ... ."
The defense attorney responded, "Right." The judge
also noted that this was the first time that he had had to
use this procedure, and he was glad that it had worked.
that day, after approximately five hours of deliberations,
the jury returned a guilty verdict on the third-degree sexual
assault charge. However, the jury was not able to reach a
verdict on the first-degree harassment charge, and that
charge was later dismissed by the State.
now appeals, claiming that the trial court committed plain
error when it replaced a regularly seated juror with an
alternate juror after deliberations in the case had already
is correct that the procedures used in this case were
improper under Alaska law. We addressed this very issue in
Plate v. State, a case in which the trial judge
substituted an alternate juror for a regularly seated juror
who had died after the first day of
deliberations. In Plate, we held that
"Alaska Criminal Rule 24(b)(2) does not authorize a
trial judge to substitute an alternate juror for a regular
juror once deliberations have begun." We also concluded
that the trial court in Plate committed reversible
error when it authorized such a substitution over the defense
made clear in Plate, however, that we were not
deciding whether all violations of Rule 24(b)(2) would
necessarily result in a deprivation of due process or
infringement of the defendant's constitutional right to a
jury trial. Instead, our decision to reverse
Plate's conviction rested on the particular facts of that
case, which included the defense attorney's objection to
the procedure and the trial court's failure to use proper
Plate did not answer the question presented by the
present case - whether a violation of Rule 24(b)(2) that is
not objected to by the defense attorney (and, arguably,
tacitly agreed to by the defense attorney) ...