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State v. Baker

Court of Appeals of Alaska

June 22, 2018

STATE OF ALASKA, Appellant,
v.
TIMOTHY SANTA BAKER, Appellee.

          Appeal from the Superior Court, Fourth Judicial District, Fairbanks, Bethany S. Harbison, Judge. Trial Court No. 4FA-14-318 CR

          Timothy W. Terrell, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Criminal Appeals, Anchorage, and Craig W. Richards, Attorney General, and James E. Cantor, Acting Attorney General, Juneau, for the Appellant.

          Dan S. Bair, Assistant Public Advocate, Appeals and Statewide Defense Section, and Richard Allen, Public Advocate, Anchorage, for the Appellee.

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

          OPINION

          ALLARD JUDGE

         This appeal requires us to construe Alaska Criminal Rule 45(c)(3) and to clarify when criminal offenses arise from the "same criminal episode" for purposes of determining a defendant's speedy trial rights under Criminal Rule 45.

         Relevant facts

         Responding to a tip about drug dealing at a local gas station, an Alaska State Trooper observed Timothy Santa Baker drive up to a gas pump and a woman get into Baker's vehicle. The trooper then watched as Baker drove his car across the parking lot and parked next to another parked vehicle. Once there, Baker interacted with the woman and another man outside of the two vehicles.

         After observing this activity, the trooper approached Baker and the two other people and requested their identifications. In response, Baker fled the scene on foot, abandoning his phone and several small plastic bags filled with a white powdery substance along the way. (The police later collected the plastic bags and field-tested their contents, which tested presumptively positive for cocaine.)

         The trooper gave immediate chase to Baker and eventually caught him. After discovering that Baker was on bail release and that his driver's license was revoked, the trooper arrested Baker and charged him with the following misdemeanor offenses: driving while license revoked, violating the conditions of his release, and disorderly conduct. (The disorderly conduct charge was later dismissed at arraignment.) Baker was not charged with any drug-related crimes at that time.

         Approximately three months after his arrest, Baker pleaded guilty to the driving while license revoked charge, and the State dismissed the remaining violating conditions of release charge. In the interim, the State obtained a search warrant for Baker's mobile phone, which revealed evidence that he was engaged in drug distribution. The State also sent the white powder for further testing at the crime lab, and the lab confirmed that the white powder was cocaine.

         Approximately four months after Baker's initial arrest, and one month after Baker pleaded guilty to the driving while license revoked charge, the State indicted Baker for third-degree misconduct involving a controlled substance (possessing cocaine with intent to distribute).[1]

         Approximately a year into the pretrial litigation of the drug charge, Baker's defense attorney moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing that the drug charge arose from "the same criminal episode" as the driving while license revoked charge and therefore, under Alaska Criminal Rule 45(c)(3), the speedy trial time for the drug charge began running when the earlier charges were served on Baker.

         The superior court agreed with the defense attorney that the driving while license revoked charge and the felony drug charge arose out of the same criminal episode. In its written order explaining its decision, the superior court acknowledged that there was no evidentiary or elemental overlap between the two charges. But the court concluded that the two charges nevertheless arose from the "same criminal episode" for purposes of calculating Baker's speedy trial time under Criminal Rule 45(c)(3) because Baker's act of driving across the parking lot helped facilitate the drug deal. Based on this purported causal relationship, the court concluded that the speedy trial time for the drug charge had already run, and the court therefore dismissed the felony drug indictment with prejudice under Criminal Rule 45(g).

         The State now appeals that dismissal.

         The definition of "same criminal episode " under Criminal Rule 45(c)(3)

         Alaska Criminal Rule 45 governs a defendant's statutory right to a speedy trial under Alaska law. Under Criminal Rule 45(b), the State is required to try a criminal defendant within 120 days after the day that the charging document is served on the defendant - subject to certain statutory exceptions that toll the running of the speedy trial time period.[2]

         Criminal Rule 45(c)(3) addresses situations in which the State files a new charge that arises out of "the same criminal episode" as the original charge. This provision declares, in pertinent part,

[t]he Rule 45 commencement date for a new charge arising out of the same criminal episode shall be the same as the commencement date for the original charge, unless the evidence on which the new charge is based was not available to the prosecution on the commencement date for the original charge.[3]

         The provision further provides, that if the evidence for the new charge arising out of the same criminal episode was not available at the time the original charges were filed, and the State can show that it was diligent in investigating and bringing the new charge, then the Rule 45 speedy trial time is calculated from the time the new charge was filed.[4]

         Criminal Rule 45(c)(3) - and, in particular, the term "same criminal episode" - is derived from former Standard 12-2.2 of the American Bar Association's Standards for Criminal Justice.[5] As the Commentary to that Standard explains, the purpose of applying the same speedy trial calculation to all charges arising from the "same criminal episode" is to ensure that the prosecution is not penalized "simply because the defendant is being held to answer on an unrelated offense," while the defendant does not lose the benefit of a speedy trial "simply because the offense charged ... differs somewhat from the offense for which the defendant is being held to answer."[6]As the Commentary also clarifies, the speedy trial protection granted to charges "arising out of the same criminal episode" is distinct from the due process protections that exist to protect defendants from the more general problem of pre-accusation prosecutorial delay.[7]

         The former ABA standard refers to charges "based on the same conduct or arising from the same criminal episode."[8] The Commentary explains that the term "same conduct" covers "those cases where several offenses arise out of the same act, [such] as where a defendant recklessly operates an automobile and kills two persons."[9] Likewise, the term "same criminal episode" covers those situations involving multiple but related criminal acts such as "the simultaneous robbery of seven individuals," "the killing of several people with successive shots from a gun," "the successive burning of three pieces of property," or "such contemporaneous and related crimes as burglary and larceny, or kidnapping and robbery."[10]

         Alaska appellate court decisions have also provided further guidance on when criminal offenses should be considered as "arising from the same criminal episode" for purposes of the speedy trial calculation under Rule 45(c)(3). [11] In State v. Dunten, this Court summarized the prior Alaska case law and identified the governing principle as follows:

No Alaska speedy trial case has found separate charges to arise from the same criminal episode merely because they occurred simultaneously or at closely related times. In each case, some additional similarity between the initial and later charges - either a causal link or a close evidentiary or elemental "nexus" - has justified the finding of a single criminal episode.[12]

         Thus, under Alaska law, criminal offenses that occur within close temporal proximity to one another should be considered as arising out of the "same criminal episode" for purposes of calculating the defendant's speedy trial time only when there is a close elemental or evidentiary overlap between the charged offenses or when there is a causal link that directly connects the commission of one criminal offense to the other offense - such as exists in the "contemporaneous and related crimes of burglary and larceny, kidnapping and robbery" mentioned in the ABA commentary. Other jurisdictions with speedy trial rules modeled on the same ABA standard use similar formulations.[13]

         After articulating this standard in Dunten, we then applied it to the facts of that case.[14]Dunten involved a woman who shot her husband following an argument in a parked car.[15] Prior to the shooting and immediately after the shooting, Dunten (who was intoxicated) drove the car.[16] Dunten was arrested and prosecuted for driving while under the influence.[17] However, the State did not charge Dunten with the murder of her husband until eighteen months later.[18] Dunten moved to dismiss the murder indictment under Criminal Rule 45, arguing that the State's delay in bringing that charge violated her speedy trial rights under that rule.[19] Dunten argued that the driving while under the influence charge and the murder charge both arose out of the "same criminal episode" and therefore the speedy trial time for the murder charge began running when the DUI charge ...


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