September 24, 2018
The latest controversy over a lenient sentence involving sexual assault comes from Alaska
This lengthy new Washington Post article provides a detailed review of a lenient Alaska sentencing causing a stir. The article is headlined "A man accused of kidnapping and masturbating on a woman got a ‘pass.’ Now people want the judge and prosecutor out." Here are excerpts:
Hours after Elizabeth Williams learned last week that Justin Schneider wouldn’t spend a day in jail, she turned to Facebook to channel her outrage.
The Anchorage social worker didn’t know Schneider, 34, before he was arrested in August 2017 after police said he offered a woman a ride from a gas station, stopped on the side of a road and asked her to step out under the pretense of loading items into the car, then choked her until she lost consciousness and masturbated on her. Nor did Williams know the victim in the case, identified only as a 25-year-old Native woman who called police after the assault.
What she was familiar with was how the case ended: Schneider pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree felony assault in exchange for the dismissal of his other assault, kidnapping and harassment charges. He was sentenced Wednesday to two years in prison, the maximum for that charge, with one year suspended.
However, Schneider was given credit for a year under house arrest, meaning he would not serve additional time in prison. He will instead be required to continue wearing an ankle monitor and participate in a treatment program. “I was just absolutely appalled,” she told The Washington Post.
Soon afterward, Williams learned that Alaska voters were slated to decide whether the judge in the case should be retained on the Anchorage Superior Court in the November elections. And so, Thursday morning, Williams started a Facebook page: “NO retention for Judge Michael Corey,” she named it....
Many in the group also directed their anger at Anchorage Assistant District Attorney Andrew Grannik, the prosecutor in the case, who said he had made the plea deal because Schneider had no prior criminal record and seemed amenable to rehabilitation, according to the Alaska Star.
Grannik said in court that he had “reasonable expectations” that Schneider would not offend again. “But I would like the gentleman to be on notice that that is his one pass. It’s not really a pass, but given the conduct, one might consider that it is,” Grannik said then.
On social media, people seized on the “one pass” comment and demanded that Grannik be given the boot along with the judge.
Meanwhile, Alaska state officials have acknowledged the outrage but said that, while Schneider’s conduct was “very disturbing,” Corey and Grannik were constrained by sentencing laws. “Both the governor and the attorney general think what occurred in this case was unacceptable in terms of the current state of the law,” said Cori Mills, a senior assistant attorney general in the Alaska Department of Law. “The law needs to be changed.”
Under Alaska statute, the definition of sexual contact encompasses only direct physical contact with genitals, buttocks, female breasts or the anus — not semen. In other words, despite the accusation that Schneider ejaculated on the woman, he could be charged only with harassment in the first degree, which is not a sex offense, according to state Deputy Attorney General Rob Henderson.
He reiterated what the Alaska Criminal Division director stated Friday, in the face of strong backlash over the sentence: State officials had feared that the kidnapping charge, the most serious of the counts, could not have been proved beyond a reasonable doubt if the case had gone to trial because Schneider’s victim had willingly entered his vehicle.
Given that, Henderson said, the prosecution would have been left to pursue lesser charges that, even if they had resulted in convictions, would not have forced Schneider to enter sex offender treatment. “Because the state realized there was a need for sex offender treatment, the only way to obtain that requirement was to get him to agree to it" in a plea deal, Henderson said. “When you have sex offender treatment, you have to have some type of leverage or incentive to compel the person to complete the treatment.”...
In the wake of the case, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker (I) said he planned to propose legislation that would make “causing unwanted contact with semen” a sex offense. If successful, the penalty for a first-time offense would carry jail time of two to 12 years and require registering as a sex offender. However, the Alaska legislature does not convene until January, so any fix to the loophole would be months away at the earliest.
Williams, who started the Facebook page calling for the judge’s ouster, said she agreed with the proposed loophole fix and understood the sentencing constraints the judge and prosecutor were under. However, she wished that the judge had sentenced Schneider to some jail time — or that the case had been taken to trial, even if it meant risking that Schneider would be acquitted of all charges...
The Alaska Star reported that Schneider’s victim was not at the hearing and had, according to police, been traumatized “to the point where she couldn’t hardly speak” after the assault. Details about the case were graphic enough that some local news outlets placed editor’s notes at the tops of their stories warning readers.
The victim “said she could not fight him off, he was too heavy and had her down being choked to death,” Anchorage police Detective Brett Sarber wrote in a criminal complaint obtained by KTVA News last year. “[She] said she lost consciousness, thinking she was going to die.” When she regained consciousness, the man zipped up his pants, gave her a tissue and “told her that he wasn’t really going to kill her, that he needed her to believe she was going to die so that he could be sexually fulfilled,” Sarber wrote in the complaint.
September 24, 2018 at 11:50 PM | Permalink
I've never understood why judges give defendants credit for house arrest in lieu of jail. They are not the same, the freedoms are not the same, and they certainly can't possibly have the same impact. Oh, I'm on house arrest, I'll order pizza from Pizza Hut. Oh, I'm in jail, looks like I have to eat what they serve at dinner tonight. TV, internet, people visiting whenever, etc. at home is not the same as being placed in a jail setting without work privileges. Boggles my mind.
And, from experience, this does not work the same way in the federal system. If my defendant is on home detention, community confinement like a halfway house, and the Judge imposes a sentence of 12 months and a day - my defendant will not get any credit (nor should he, by the way) for any time done on home detention or the halfway house.
Posted by: atomicfrog | Sep 25, 2018 12:20:31 PM
Atomicfrog, it seems to me that the problem is not as much the crediting per se as that it is being applied on a 1-for-1 basis. Depending on the terms of the house arrest, maybe 3 days on house arrest should equal 1 day prison/jail credit? In my book, refusing to consider time on house arrest at all leads to a heavier punitive effect for those subject to house arrest before sentencing than equally culpable defendants who were not. Of course, all that is somewhat distinct from the fact that the term of imprisonment in this case was inadequate.
Posted by: Jason | Sep 25, 2018 4:29:10 PM
Jason - I see your point, but the reason for home detention or house arrest prior to trial is to ensure two things - the defendant does not flee (risk of flight) and the protection of the public (risk of danger). If those 2 criteria can be met in a less restrictive setting, then the court typically releases the defendant pending trial. It is never punishment per se to confine a defendant to house arrest/home detention/electronic monitoring etc. prior to trial. After the guilty plea or verdict, then the court has opt to "punish" and at least in my opinion, the aforementioned forms of home confinement etc. are not punishment.
Posted by: atomicfrog | Sep 26, 2018 7:17:25 AM