Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Wynne v. State

Court of Appeals of Alaska

August 31, 2018

LATRELL DONEL WYNNE, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF ALASKA, Appellee.

          Appeal from the Superior Trial Court No. 3AN-11-6228 CR, Third Judicial District, Anchorage, Philip R. Volland, Judge.

          Ben Crittenden, Attorney at Law, Anchorage, under contract with the Office of Public Advocacy, for the Appellant.

          Kenneth M. Rosenstein, 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. [*]

          OPINION

          MANNHEIMER JUDGE.

         Under Alaska's pattern jury instructions, jurors are told that they should distrust the testimony of any accomplice to the charged crime. [1]

         The present case involves two co-defendants - Troy Williams and Latrell Donel Wynne - who were charged with jointly committing two robberies. (The two men were charged with robbing the occupant of one apartment, and soon thereafter robbing the occupants of a second apartment in the same building).

         Williams and Wynne were tried together. Williams decided not to testify, but Wynne took the stand at trial. In his testimony, Wynne asserted that he had no connection to any robbery committed in the second apartment. With regard to the robbery committed in the first apartment, Wynne asserted that he had been an innocent bystander - that his co-defendant Williams was solely responsible for that robbery.

         At the end of the trial, at the request of Williams's attorney, the trial judge gave Criminal Pattern Jury Instruction 1.21 - an instruction which told the jurors that, if they concluded that Wynne was likely a participant in the robbery, then they should view Wynne's testimony with distrust.

         The jury acquitted both Wynne and Williams of the robbery committed in the second apartment. With regard to the robbery committed in the first apartment, the jury found Wynne guilty of this crime, but the jury was unable to reach a verdict with respect to Williams.

         Wynne (the sole defendant convicted of anything at the trial) now appeals his robbery conviction. He argues that the trial judge committed error when the judge instructed the jurors to evaluate whether Wynne was a participant in the robbery, and to view Wynne's testimony with distrust if they found that he was a participant.

         For the reasons explained in this opinion, we hold that the "distrust the testimony of an accomplice" jury instruction should not have been given under the circumstances of this case. But though we conclude that it was error to give this instruction, we conclude that the error was harmless under the facts of Wynne's case. We therefore affirm Wynne's conviction.

         The rationale of the jury instruction on distrusting the testimony of an accomplice

         The jury instruction directing jurors to view the testimony of an accomplice with distrust has been a feature of Alaska law since territorial days. This instruction was mandatory from 1887 until 1975. [2] Then, in 1975 (as we shall explain), our supreme court amended Alaska Criminal Rule 30(b) so that judges were authorized to give this instruction, but they were no longer required to do so.

         The rationale behind this jury instruction is explained by Dean John Henry Wigmore in his treatise on evidence, Evidence in Trials at Common Law (Chadbourn revision, 1978), § 2057, Vol. 7, page 417:

The reasons which have led to this distrust of an accomplice's testimony are not far to seek. He may expect to save himself from punishment by procuring the conviction of others. It is true that he is also charging himself, and in that respect he has burned his ships. But he can escape the consequences of this acknowledgement, if the prosecuting authorities choose to release him, provided he helps them to secure the conviction of his partner in crime[.] ...

         However, Wigmore also points out the limit of this rationale:

The essential element, however, it must be remembered, is this supposed promise or expectation of conditional clemency. If that is lacking, the whole basis of distrust fails.

Ibid.

         The modern history of this jury instruction in Alaska

         From the time of statehood until1975, whenever an accomplice to the crime testified at a defendant's trial, Alaska Criminal Rule 30(b) required the trial judge to instruct the jury that the testimony of an accomplice should be viewed with distrust. [3] This duty was imposed on trial judges regardless of whether either party asked for the instruction.

         But this aspect of the law began to change in 1974, when the Alaska Supreme Court decided Anthony v. State, 521 P.2d 486 (Alaska 1974).

         The defendant in Anthony was charged with committing a murder for hire. Verna Hofhines, the woman who allegedly hired Anthony to kill her husband, ultimately reached a plea agreement with the State: she pleaded guilty to murder, and she testified against Anthony at his trial. [4]

         Anthony's jury received the standard jury instructions on weighing the credibility of witnesses - i.e., instructions embodying the principle that jurors are entitled to consider a witness's potential bias and their potential interest in the outcome of the case. [5] And Anthony's attorney apparently thought that these standard jury instructions gave him sufficient scope to attack Hofhines's testimony - because Anthony's attorney did not ask the trial judge to give a "distrust the testimony of an accomplice" instruction. [6] But on appeal, Anthony argued that his conviction should be reversed because Criminal Rule 30(b) made the "distrust the testimony of an accomplice" instruction mandatory, even when the instruction was not requested. [7]

         In a three-to-two decision, the supreme court concluded that the trial judge's failure to give a "distrust the testimony of an accomplice" instruction required reversal of Anthony's conviction.

         The Anthony majority acknowledged that Anthony's attorney had focused the defense case on attacking Hofhines's credibility. But the majority declared that even if the defense attorney's cross-examination and closing argument had been "devastating", the purpose of Criminal Rule 30(b) would not have been fulfilled. The majority stated that the purpose of the rule was to emphasize to the jurors that distrust of an accomplice's truthfulness was not merely something that could be argued by ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.