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Smith v. State

Court of Appeals of Alaska

March 1, 2019

TEDDY SMITH, Appellant,

          Appeal from the Superior Court, Second Judicial District, Kotzebue, Timothy Dooley, Judge. Trial Court Nos. 2KB-12-603 CR & 2KB-12-625 CR.


          Kelly R Taylor, Assistant Public Defender, and Quinlan Steiner, Public Defender, Anchorage, for the Appellant. 3

          Ann B. Black, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Criminal Appeals, Anchorage, and Jahna Lindemuth, Attorney General, Juneau, for the Appellee.

          Erin Dougherty Lynch, Native American Rights Fund, Anchorage, for Amicus Curiae Association of Village Council Presidents, aligned with the Appellant.

          Susan Orlansky, Anchorage, for Amicus Curiae ACLU of Alaska Foundation, aligned with the Appellant.

          Thomas Amodio, Reeves Amodio, LLC, Anchorage, for Amicus Curiae Alaska Court System, aligned with the Appellee.

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



         In early September 2012, in the village of Kiana, Teddy Smith fired a shotgun at a group of people. He then fled into the wilderness, where he spent seven to ten days subsisting on berries and water. Smith became exhausted and delirious, and he later reported that he had been visited by "inukins" - supernatural beings who are reputed to live on the tundra.

         Eventually, Smith came upon a hunting cabin north of Kiana, along the Squirrel River. There was no one in the cabin when Smith found it, but the cabin contained food. Smith decided to stay in the cabin.

         While Smith was there, two brothers - Paul and Chuck Buckel- arrived at the cabin. Paul had lived in Kotzebue for more than twenty years, and his brother Chuck was visiting from out of state. The Buckels were on a bear-hunting trip, and they had permission from the cabin owner to use the cabin.

         Smith greeted the Buckels, identifying himself by a false name. Smith helped the brothers bring their gear into the cabin, and he conversed with them for about an hour. All of a sudden, Smith began screaming for the Buckels to "get the fuck out". Smith then grabbed his pistol and shot Chuck Buckel in the chest.

         Smith forced the Buckels out of the cabin, and he ordered Paul Buckel to bring the brothers' boat closer to the cabin. After Paul tied off the boat, Smith shot Paul in the arm. Fearing for his life, Paul ran into the woods. His brother Chuck also tried to run, but because of his chest wound, he had to stop and lean against a tree to catch his breath. Smith watched Chuck from about ten feet away, but he did not shoot Chuck again. Eventually Chuck made his way into the woods, where the brothers were reunited.

         In the meantime, Smith loaded most of the Buckels' gear into their boat, and then he took off in their boat down the river. When the Buckels discovered that Smith had left, they returned to the cabin and used the cabin owner's marine radio to call for help. The following morning, the state troopers arrived, and the Buckels were medivacked to receive care for their wounds. Both of them survived.

         The troopers found Smith down-river from the cabin, and they took him into custody.

         Smith was brought to trial in Kotzebue on charges of attempted murder, first-degree assault, first-degree robbery, and third-degree assault. He was convicted following a jury trial.

         Smith now seeks reversal of his convictions. He raises a series of legal challenges to the rules that the Alaska Court System uses for summoning prospective jurors for criminal trials in court locations around the state - including the authority that the rules give the presiding judges of each judicial district to restrict the geographic area from which prospective jurors are summoned.

         For the reasons explained in this opinion, we reject most of Smith's claims and we affirm the rulings of the trial court. But with respect to Smith's claim that he should be able to challenge a ruling made by the presiding judge of his judicial district to restrict the area from which jurors are summoned, we conclude that we must remand this case to the superior court for further proceedings on this matter.

         The law that governs the summoning of prospective jurors for trials in the different court locations within Alaska

         The Alaska Supreme Court has established venue districts for every court location in Alaska. These venue districts are defined by a venue map promulgated by the Alaska Supreme Court.[1] See Alaska Criminal Rule 18(a). The purpose of these venue districts is to identify the court site where a defendant's trial will presumptively be held if the crime is alleged to have occurred within that venue district.

         For example, as defined by the supreme court's venue map, the Kotzebue venue district is a sizeable region that (1) extends east from Kotzebue approximately 250 miles inland, (2) extends south from Kotzebue approximately 100 miles, and extends more than 150 miles northwest from Kotzebue along the coast of Kotzebue Sound, past Point Hope. When a crime is alleged to have occurred within this district, the trial will presumptively be held in Kotzebue.

         As might be imagined, all of the venue districts in Alaska include smaller towns and villages in addition to the court site itself. For example, the Kotzebue venue district includes approximately a dozen smaller villages in addition to the regional hub city of Kotzebue. But when the Alaska Court System prepares its lists of prospective jurors within the various venue districts - i. e., the lists of people who can be summoned to serve on juries at the various court locations around the state - these jury lists will often exclude the people living in outlying towns and villages.

         Under Alaska Administrative Rule 15(c) - a rule that was numbered "15(b)" at the time of the proceedings in this case - the list of prospective jurors for any particular court site is not drawn from the population of the entire corresponding venue district. Rather, the list of prospective jurors comprises only the people living within a 50-mile radius of that court site, unless the presiding judge of that judicial district designates a different selection area.

         In some venue districts, this 50-mile selection radius excludes a relatively small percentage of the population of that district. But in far-flung rural venue districts, the 50-mile radius rule can exclude the residents of many towns and villages.

         In the Kotzebue venue district, for example, only two villages (Noorvik and Noatak) are located within a 50-mile radius of the Kotzebue court.

         Moreover, for the past thirty years, the presiding judges of the Second Judicial District (the judicial district that includes Kotzebue) have concluded that the cost of transporting and housing prospective jurors from even these two villages is unreasonably high. For this reason, over the years, the various presiding judges of the Second Judicial District have exercised their authority under Administrative Rule 15(c) to alter the 50-mile jury selection radius. Instead of employing the normal 50-mile radius, these presiding judges have issued orders declaring that the list of prospective jurors for trials in Kotzebue should be confined to the people living within a 5-mile radius of Kotzebue.

         In other words, the list of prospective jurors for trials in Kotzebue is essentially limited to the people living in or nearby the city of Kotzebue itself.

         The constitutional limitations on the Alaska Court System's authority to define jury selection areas based on cost and convenience

         On its face, Administrative Rule 15 gives the Court System, and the presiding judges of the four judicial districts, broad authority to define jury selection areas so as to reduce jury expenses and increase the convenience of jurors' travel and lodging.

         However, the working of Administrative Rule 15 hinges in large measure on the boundaries of the various venue districts drawn in the supreme court's venue map. And the driving force behind the supreme court's selection of those venue district boundaries is the supreme court's 1971 decision in Alvarado v. State, 486 P.2d 891 (Alaska 1971). Alvarado is the seminal Alaska case defining a criminal defendant's right to demand that prospective jurors summoned for jury service reflect the community where the crime is alleged to have occurred.

         The defendant in Alvarado was an Alaska Native man who was charged with committing a rape in the village of Chignik.[2] This village is located on the Alaska Peninsula, approximately 450 air miles southwest of Anchorage, and the great majority of its residents were Alaska Natives who primarily pursued a rural, subsistence lifestyle.[3] However, the city of Anchorage was the specified court site for crimes committed in Chignik - and, under the jury selection rules that were in force at the time, the prospective jurors for Alvarado's trial were drawn from the people living within 15 miles of Anchorage.[4]

         This 15-mile jury selection radius effectively excluded not only the residents of Chignik but also the residents of every other Native village. And even though the Alaska Natives comprised nearly 30 percent of the population of the Third Judicial District (where Anchorage is located), ...

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