from the Superior Court, Third Judicial District, Trial Court
Anchorage, No. 3AN-13-5018 CR Paul E. Olson, Judge.
Patton Kim, Assistant Public Defender, and Quinlan Steiner,
Public Defender, Anchorage, for the Appellant.
Patricia L. Haines, Assistant Attorney General, Office of
Criminal Appeals, Anchorage, and Jahna Lindemuth, Attorney
General, Juneau, for the Appellee.
Before: Mannheimer, Chief Judge, Allard, Judge, and Suddock,
Superior Court Judge. [*]
September 2016, Falealo Manuele Pulusila was on felony
probation, and his driver's license was suspended.
Pulusila borrowed another man's truck. The Anchorage
police contacted Pulusila; one thing led to another; and the
police searched the truck.
the front console, the police found a small explosive device.
Underneath a pile of clothes in the back seat, they found
ammunition for a firearm. And inside a backpack in the back
seat, they found a methamphetamine pipe.
Pulusila's conditions of probation prohibited him from
having any ammunition or explosives in his "custody,
residence, or vehicle". Another of Pulusila's
conditions of probation prohibited him from having any drug
paraphernalia in his "residence or ... any vehicle under
[his] control". Based on the discovery of the explosive
device, the ammunition, and the meth pipe in the truck that
Pulusila was driving, the State petitioned the superior court
to revoke Pulusila's probation.
contested the State's petition. He pointed out that the
truck was borrowed, and he asserted that he was unaware that
the truck contained the explosive device, the ammunition, and
the meth pipe.
superior court did not resolve the question of whether these
items belonged to Pulusila, or whether Pulusila was even
aware that the truck contained these items. Instead, the
superior court ruled that it did not make any difference
whether Pulusila knew that these items were in the truck.
specifically, the superior court ruled that Pulusila's
probation could lawfully be revoked if the State proved (1)
that Pulusila was aware of the two probation conditions that
prohibited him from having these items, and (2) that the
prohibited items were present in a vehicle that was under
Pulusila's control, even if Pulusila did not know about
to the court, it was no defense that Pulusila was unaware
that the prohibited items were in the vehicle. If the law
were otherwise, the superior court declared, this would
"give free rein" to anyone on probation to say,
"It's not my car", or, if the car was rented,
"[Those items were] left in there by [a] previous
on this ruling, the superior court revoked Pulusila's
probation and imposed all of Pulusila's remaining
suspended jail time.
now appeals the superior court's decision.
first argument is that, contrary to the superior court's
ruling, his two probation conditions did not make him
strictly liable for any prohibited items that might be found
in his residence or vehicle. Pulusila contends that his
probation conditions prohibited him from knowingly
possessing ammunition, explosives, or drug paraphernalia.
next argues that if his probation conditions did, in fact,
make him strictly liable for any prohibited items found in
the borrowed truck, then those probation conditions violated
the constitutional guarantee of due process of law.
State responds that Pulusila's probation conditions did,
indeed, impose strict liability for any prohibited items
found in the borrowed truck. The State contends that even if
Pulusila had no reason to know that the truck contained these
prohibited items, Pulusila nevertheless had a duty to make
sure, before he borrowed the truck, that the vehicle did not
contain any items that he was prohibited from having.
State further contends that this kind of strict liability is
lawful. More specifically, the State argues that, under
Alaska law, a court can properly revoke a defendant's
probation even when it is clear that the defendant was not at
fault and did not act with any culpable mental state.
According to the State, the defendant's lack of fault is
a matter that a court should consider at the disposition
hearing (i.e., at sentencing) - after the
court has found that the defendant violated their probation.
address these contentions in reverse order. We will first
discuss the State's claim that Alaska law allows a court
to hold a defendant strictly liable for any violation of
probation, regardless of the defendant's lack of fault.
As we explain in this opinion, the State's argument is
partially correct. There are circumstances when a
court can revoke a defendant's probation for a violation
of probation that was not the defendant's fault. But
there is no universal rule that a defendant's lack of
fault is irrelevant.
under Alaska law, a court can revoke a defendant's
probation when the defendant's violation of probation
supports the conclusion that the aims of probation are not
being met, and that the defendant's continued release on
probation would be at odds with the goals of protecting
society and fostering the defendant's rehabilitation.
When a court makes this determination, the defendant's
fault (or lack of fault) may sometimes have little relevance
- but conversely, the defendant's fault or lack of fault
may sometimes be a crucial factor in the court's
then address the question of how to interpret Pulusila's
conditions of probation, given our construction of Alaska
probation law. As we explain in this opinion, we agree with
Pulusila that his conditions of probation only prohibited him
from knowingly possessing the ammunition,
explosives, and drug paraphernalia. And because of this, the
superior court was required to resolve the contested issue of
whether Pulusila was aware that these prohibited items were
present in the vehicle.
question of whether a defendant's probation may be
revoked even when the defendant bears no fault for their
failure to abide by the conditions of probation
just explained, the State takes the position that a
defendant's probation can be revoked even when the
defendant's action (or the defendant's failure to
act) was not accompanied by any culpable mental state - in
other words, even when the failure to abide by the conditions
of probation was not the defendant's fault. The State
bases this argument on our supreme court's decision in
Trumbly v. State, 515 P.2d 707 (Alaska 1973).
The Alaska Supreme Court's decision in Trumbly
Trumbly, the State petitioned the sentencing court
to revoke a defendant's probation because the defendant
failed to promptly report to his probation officer upon his
release from prison. In fact, Trumbly left Alaska without
obtaining his probation officer's permission.
defended by asserting that he was mentally ill, that his
mental disease or defect "deprived him of the
substantial capacity to conform his conduct to the conditions
of [his] probation", and that he therefore should not be
held accountable for his ...