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Blalock v. State

Court of Appeals of Alaska

September 27, 2019

Yoder Austin BLALOCK, Appellant/Cross-Appellee,
STATE of Alaska, Appellee/Cross-Appellant.

          Petition for Rehearing Granted in Part December 10, 2019

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          Appeal from the Superior Court, Third Judicial District, Anchorage, Jack W. Smith, Judge. Trial Court No. 3AN-11-12129 CR

         Elizabeth D. Friedman, Law Office of Elizabeth D. Friedman, Redding, California, under contract with the Office of Public Advocacy, Anchorage, for the Appellant/Cross-Appellee.

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

         Before: Allard, Chief Judge, and Wollenberg and Harbison, Judges.


         HARBISON, Judge

          Following a jury trial, Yoder Austin Blalock was convicted of second-degree murder for killing Nathan Tanape. Blalock was sentenced to 60 years with 15 years suspended (45 years to serve) and was placed on probation for a period of 10 years.

         Prior to trial, Blalock moved to suppress the statements he made to the police, both at the scene of his arrest and later at the police station. Blalock argued that, because he had requested an attorney at the scene, any subsequent questioning by the police in the absence of an attorney violated the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Edwards v. Arizona .[1] Under Edwards, the police are precluded from initiating further interrogation of a suspect who has invoked his right to counsel, until counsel has been made available.[2]

         At an evidentiary hearing, the trial court agreed with Blalock and precluded the prosecutor from introducing Blalock’s statements as part of the State’s case-in-chief. But the court later found that the officers’ conduct was neither intentional nor egregious. Accordingly, applying Alaska Evidence Rule 412 (as interpreted by this Court in State v. Batts [3] ), the trial court allowed the prosecutor to impeach Blalock’s testimony with his statements to the police.

         On appeal, Blalock challenges the trial court’s ruling permitting the State to use his statements to impeach him during cross-examination. The State cross-appeals, arguing that the trial court erred in granting Blalock’s motion to suppress. In particular, the State argues that Blalock was not subject to a custodial interrogation at the time he asked for a lawyer and that he was not entitled to anticipatorily invoke his Miranda rights. Because we conclude that the trial court did not err in allowing the impeachment use of Blalock’s statements and because we otherwise affirm Blalock’s conviction, we need not decide the issues raised in the State’s cross-appeal.

         At trial, Blalock defended on the ground of self-defense, and the trial court instructed the jury on this defense. Blalock asked the trial court to instruct the jury on the "Stand Your Ground" amendment — a 2013 statutory enactment that narrowed a person’s duty to retreat before using deadly force in self-defense. Under this amendment, there is no duty to retreat if the person is "in any ... place where the person has a right to be."[4] The trial court concluded that the "Stand Your Ground" law was not retroactively applicable to Blalock’s case, which was based on events occurring in 2011, and the trial court declined to instruct the jury on it.

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          Blalock now challenges the trial court’s decision. For the reasons explained here, we agree with the trial court that the statutory amendment did not apply retroactively to Blalock’s case. We therefore uphold the trial court’s decision declining to instruct the jury on the 2013 law.

          Finally, Blalock raises several challenges to his sentence. We have reviewed his claims, and we find no merit to them.

          Factual background

          One night in October 2011, Blalock drove to Tanape’s apartment where Blalock’s acquaintance, Charles Alexie, and several other people were partying. Outside of the apartment, Blalock encountered Tanape. When Blalock was standing about ten feet away from Tanape, Tanape yelled at him to leave.

          Blalock began walking back to his truck, saying, "Just wait right there, I got something for you." Blalock took something out of his truck and walked back toward Tanape. Blalock and Tanape faced off. Blalock sprayed Tanape with pepper spray and slashed him with a knife. Tanape went to the ground; he then grabbed Blalock by the legs, picked him up, and slammed him to the ground.

          Alexie ran toward Blalock and Tanape to intervene, but Blalock sprayed Alexie with pepper spray, causing Alexie to fall to the ground and have difficulty breathing. Tanape and Blalock struggled, and then Blalock got up, ran back to his truck, and drove away, leaving Tanape lying in the middle of the alley.

          Alexie ran back inside the apartment, covering his eyes, and yelling for someone to call 911. Tanape came inside soon after Alexie, covered in blood and unable to speak.

         Police officers responded to the apartment. When they arrived, they noticed an overwhelming smell of pepper spray and observed Tanape sitting in a chair. He had wounds on his legs and knees, a large laceration on his head, and what appeared to be a stab wound to the back of his neck.

         Shortly after the officers arrived, Tanape was transported to the hospital where he was pronounced dead. The medical examiner determined that Tanape had suffered over twenty stab wounds, including one that was fatal.

         After Blalock fled the scene, he called 911 several times to report that he was involved in the incident. Officers located Blalock and arrested him. They then took him to the Anchorage Police Department where detectives read him a Miranda warning.[5] Blalock agreed to be interviewed by the detectives, and he made incriminating statements during the interview.

         Blalock was subsequently charged with second-degree murder for stabbing Tanape to death.[6] The case proceeded to trial, and Blalock was convicted of second-degree murder.

          Litigation of Blalock’s motion to suppress and the use of his statements as impeachment evidence

         Prior to trial, Blalock moved to suppress the statements he made during his arrest and subsequent interview. Blalock asserted that he had clearly invoked his right to counsel during his arrest and that the on-scene police officers did not report the invocation to the detectives who later interrogated him. He contended that once he invoked his right to counsel, the Supreme Court’s decision in Edwards v. Arizona precluded the police from initiating an interrogation with him until an attorney was present.[7] Although the detectives read him his Miranda rights prior to interrogating him at the station, Blalock asserted that his statements had to be suppressed because they were obtained in violation of the Edwards rule.

          The evidence presented at the evidentiary hearing on Blalock’s motion showed that when the officers first confronted Blalock, he made statements about the incident. In response,

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one of the officers activated his recorder.

          The recording captured the conversations between Blalock and the officers as follows: Blalock initially made a variety of spontaneous statements, including repeatedly asking, "Is he okay?" At one point, an officer asked Blalock where his truck was located. Blalock responded, "Oh, it’s safe. I want to talk to a lawyer." The officer replied, "What’s that?" Blalock did not repeat his request for a lawyer.

          Instead, Blalock continued making rambling statements. For example, he said, "Well ... is (indiscernible) going to be okay or not? Fuck, when I — And when I first got away, the last time I ...

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