Accomplice Liabilty Questions Presented 1. Whether a person in Alaska can be charged as an accomplice to an unintentional crime, when Alaskan courts required that one must have the specific intent to promote or facilitate the offense? 2. Whether the mother was the legal cause of her children’s death, when she permitted the father to take the children in his car when he was drunk? Statement of the Case The appellant, Elaine Benis, was indicted in the County of Norchester, on one count of manslaughter, pursuant to A.S. 11.41.120. (R. at 1.) She was also indicted for one count of accessory to manslaughter, pursuant to A.S. 11.41.120 and A.S.
11.16.110. (R. at 1). After the presentation of the prosecution’s case, the defense moved to dismiss on the grounds that the prosecution did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mrs. Benis was reckless.
(R. at 9). This motion was denied. At the conclusion of its case, the defense moved for a directed verdict, stating that the prosecution failed to show that Mrs. Benis recklessly caused the death of her children. (R.
at 12). This motion was denied and the judge informed the counselors that he would charge the jury in accordance with the state’s proposed charge. (R. at 13). The defense strongly objected and renewed its motion for a directed verdict, submitting that there was insufficient evidence to prove that Mrs.
Benis was the cause of her children’s death, since Mr. Peterman’s actions clearly were the only cause of their death and that it is logically impossible for any jury to find someone guilty as an accomplice to an unintended crime. (R. at 13). The trial judge denied the motion.
(R. at 13). Mrs. Benis was convicted and appealed to the Court of Appeals of the State of Alaska. (R.
at 15). At issue in the appeal was whether the trial court erred, as a matter of law, (1) in instructing the jury on the charge of accessory to manslaughter and (2) in denying Mrs. Benis’s post trial motion for a directed verdict because there was insufficient evidence to support a conviction as a principal. (R. at 16). The Court of Appeals held that the trial court did not err in instructing the jury that one can be an accomplice to reckless manslaughter even though it is a not a specific intent crime.
(R. at 17). The court based its decision on holdings from other jurisdictions and rejected the Alaskan doctrine that one cannot be an accomplice to a crime when he acts recklessly. (R. at 17). Furthermore, the court held that there was sufficient evidence to support a conviction of Mrs.
Benis as principal because her act was the legal cause of death. (R. at 17). Mrs. Benis now appeals to the Supreme Court of Alaska.
This appeal is limited to the issue of whether being an accessory to manslaughter is a crime under Alaska law and whether there was sufficient evidence that Mrs. Benis’s act caused the death of her two daughters. (R. at 19). The defense appeals on the grounds that the law of Alaska does not permit an instruction that one can be an accomplice to an unintentional crime when they did not have the specific intent to promote or facilitate the offense and that Mrs.
Benis’s act was not the proximate cause of her two children’s death. On Sunday, October 10, 1999, Jay Peterman came to his wife’s house, Mrs. Benis, because he is allowed to see his children, pursuant to a temporary separation agreement. (R. at 16).
Mrs. Benis testified that her husband’s eyes were red and that he appeared tipsy, ” .. but he drove up to the house, so I thought he was O.K.” (R. at 11). However, when the prosecution asked Mrs. Benis if she knew that Mr.
Peterman was drunk at the time he picked up the girls, she emphatically replied “No”. (R. at 12). Furthermore, expert testimony from the Medical Examiner reveals that even though someone has a blood alcohol level of 0.14, it is not absolutely certain that the person appears intoxicated to the outside world. (R.
at 7). Mr. Peterman had a breath-analyzing device installed in his car because of past drunk driving incidents. (R. at 16). This device is designed to keep a drunken driver from starting a car.
The system requires a driver to breathe into a device and register a clean breath before the ignition unlocks. The driver is also subject to rolling retests during the trip to make sure the driver is alcohol free. If alcohol is registered, the vehicle’s horn honks nonstop until the vehicle is stopped. (R. at 16).
Testimony from Maggie O’Connell indicates that Mr. Peterman had his daughter Sarah blow into the tube for him before the car drove off. (R. at 2). Mrs.
Benis testified that she did not see the car drive away. (R. at 11). That was the last time she saw her children alive. At about 2:00 p.m.
on that Sunday, Peterman drove his car into oncoming traffic, killing himself and both of Mrs. Benis’s daughters. (R. at 16). Analysis I.
ALASKA LAW REGARDING ACCOMPLICE LIABILITY IS CLEAR AND ONLY ALLOWS FOR ONE INTERPRETATION: ONE MUST SPECIFICALLY INTEND TO PROMOTE OR FACILITATE THE COMMISSION OF THE OFFENSE. When this court is reviewing a matter of law it adopts a rule that is most persuasive in light of precedent, reason, and policy. See American Computer Institute v. State, Nos. S-8664, S-8694, 5235, 2000 WL 146847 (Alaska 2000).
This court’s interpretation of accomplice liability has been able to stand the test of time because its decisions have been based on common law, case precedent and statutory interpretation. The early definition of accomplice liability required one to have knowledge and specific intent to aid, abet or participate in a criminal act. This court was able to establish a mens rea requirement for an accomplice because the criminal law was codified frm common law. For 17 years this court held that one has to have knowledge and specific intent in order to be an accomplice to a crime. After the legislature revised the criminal code in Alaska the strong presumption from statutory interpretation, legislative history and case law is that they wanted to codify prior case law and common law.
Also, the legislature had no intention of adopting the Model Penal Code’s approach to accomplice liability. It is the legislature’s power not the judiciary’s to change law. The society in Alaska would be the one most devastated if the Appeals Court’s decision is upheld. Every man and woman would have to walk a so-called straight line. In the long-run everyday behavior would be criminalized.
A. This court has consistently held that one has to have the knowledge and the specific intent to be convicted as an accomplice to a crime. This court’s interpretation of accomplice liability has been able to stand the test of time because its decisions have been based on common law, case precedent and statutory interpretation. In Mahle v. State, 371 P.2d 21 (Alaska 1962), this court had its first chance to define who was an accomplice, its general definition was that an accomplice is ” ..
one who in some manner, knowingly and with criminal intent aids, abets, assists or participates in a criminal act.” Id. at 25. See Daniels v. State, 383 P.2d 323, 324 (Alaska 1963), Taylor v. State, 391 P.2d 950 (Alaska 1964), Fajerak v.
State, 439 P.2d 783, 788 (Alaska 1968), Flores v. State, 443 P.2d 73, 78 (Alaska 1968), Beavers v. State, 492 P.2d 88, 97 (Alaska 1971). This court in Daniels explained, “Neither the knowledge that a crime is being committed nor the concealment of that knowledge makes a person an accomplice, unless he aided or participated in the offense or conspired to commit it.” Id. at 383 P.2d 323, 325 accord Mahle, 371 P.2d 21, 25, Fajerak, 439 P.2d 783, 788. Furthermore, in Mahle this court stated, an accomplice has to voluntarily participate in the completion of the crime.
Id. at 371 P.2d 21, 25. As exemplified in Daniels, three men had used a woman’s car to commit a burglary; the woman never consented to this use or even had knowledge thereof. Id at 383 P.2d 323, 325. The three men after committing the crime went to her house and dumped the money on the bed, she assisted them in counting the money and kept some for herself. Id. at 325.
This court stated even if she knew that the three men were going to commit the crime she did not participate in the crime. Id. at 325. The woman had to do more than just know that a crime was being committed, there had to be a voluntary participation on her part otherwise she could not be held liable as an accomplice. The problem with the preceding cases is that at the time they were decided the statute that pertained to accomplice liability was silent as to a mens rea requirement. A.S.
12.15.010 (repealed by Ch. 166, s 21, SLA 1978, effective January 1, 1980). “All persons concerned in the commission of the crime, whether they directly commit the act constituting the crime or, though not present, aid and abet in its commission, shall be prosecuted, tried and punished as principals.” Id. This court failed to explain why they were able to read a mens rea requirement into A.S. 12.15.010, when the statute did not specifically state one.
The Alaskan criminal code due to its codification of common-law, allowed this court to interpret that an accomplice has to have the specific intent to aid, abet or participate in a criminal act. In Tarnef v. Alaska, 512 P.2d 923 (Alaska 1973), this court had to decide whether the arson statute which contained the words aids, procures or counsels, was unconstitutional because there was no mens rea requirement. This court concluded that these words meant aid and abet, as in A.S. 12.15.010, which was defined as ” .. help, assist, or facilitate the commission of a crime, promote the accomplishment thereof, help in advancing or bring it about, or encourage, counsel, or incite as to its commission.
Thomas v. State, 391 P.2d 18, 25 (Alaska 1964) quoted in 512 P.2d 923,928. Since that portion of the arson statute pertains to accomplice behavior, lacks a mens rea requirement and the punishment is the same for the principal and the accomplice, as a felony it is a basic premise that if the statute lacks a mens rea requirement the statute is unconstitutional. Id. at 512 P.2d 923, 929. Given at the time Alaska followed common law: it is true that one will sometimes find felony statutes that are silent on the subject of criminal intent.
But these are instances where the states have codified the common law of crimes, and their courts have assumed that the omission of the requirement of criminal intent did not signify disapproval of the principle but merely recognized that intent was so inherent in the idea of the offense that it needed no statutory affirmation. Thus, as to felony type offenses codified from common law, the courts have found an implication of intent. Spiedel v. State, 460 P.2d 77, 79 (Alaska 1969) quoted in 512 P.2d 923, 929. Because of this implication this court held, “it is well established under common law and in Alaska that a person cannot be convicted of aiding and abetting a crime unless he had the specific criminal intent to bring about the illegal end.” Id.
at 928. This decision changed the language that Mahle used to define accomplice liability but still held that one has to have the specific criminal intent to bring about the illegal end. However, this decision did not clarify what exactly the nature of intent was but it does illustrate why this court had the power to interpret a mens rea requirement for an accomplice. In Hensel v State, 604 P.2d 222, (Alaska 1979), the last time this issue was brought to this court, it precisely stated what was the nature of the mens rea requirement of an accomplice. The court held that ” ..
liability for the crime of another will attach only upon a showing that an individual had knowledge of the criminal enterprise and specifically intended, by his conduct to aid, abet, assist or participate in the criminal enterprise.” Id at 234. The two-prong test is that liability will not attach upon knowledge alone, the individual must also have had “the specific criminal intent to bring about the illegal end. Id. at 234. The intent therefore is ” ..
conduct voluntarily undertaken for the purpose of participating or assisting in the completion of the crime.” Evans v. State, 550 P.2d 830, 841 (Alaska 1976). From 1962 to 1979, this court had ample opportunity to interpret what the culpable mental state for an accomplice should be in Alaska. Although the language changed throughout the years this court has firmly held that one has to have knowledge and specific intent in order to be liable as an accomplice. Nowhere in any of the opinions from 1962 to 1979 even imply that one can be an accomplice if their culpable mental state is any less than knowledge and specific intent.
B. Plain reading, legislative history and case law of the accomplice liability statute in Alaska illustrate that one has to have the required specific intent to promote or facilitate the commission of the offense. In 1978 the legislature revised the criminal code and from present appeals court decisions and statutory interpretation it is evident that the legislature wanted to codify prior case law and the common law definition for who can be an accomplice. When interpreting a statute the Supreme Court of Alaska “does not adhere to the plain meaning rule of statutory interpretation, but rather, relies on a sliding scale approach even if a statute is plainly worded; since words are necessarily inexact and ambiguity is a relative concept, Supreme Court turns to legislative history, mindful that the plainer the language, the more convincing contrary legislative history must be.” Romann v. State, 991 P.2d 186 (Alaska 1999). The plain reading of A.S. 11.16.110(2)(B) on its face does not seem to be ambiguous one cannot be an accomplice to a crime if their culpable mental state is reckless.
The statute in question states, “a person is legally accountable for the conduct of another constituting an offense if, with intent to promote or facilitate the commission of the offense, the person, aids or abets the other in planning or committing the offense.” (emphasis added) A.S. 11.16.110(2)(B). Under Alaskan law a person acts with intent “with respect to the result described by a provision of law defining an offense when the person’s conscious objective is to cause the result.” A.S. 11.81.900(a)(1). A plain reading of the statute would be that one has to have the conscious objective to promote or facilitate the offense. Furthermore, according to the Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus 298 (American Edition 1996), conscious is defined as aware and aware is defined as having knowledge.
The definition of objective is something sought or aimed at. Id. at 1026. A reading of A.S. 11.16.110 with these definitions would be that one having knowledge has sought or aimed to promote or facilitate the offense.
This plain reading of the statute is consistent with the interpretations of the Supreme Court of Alaska. In Echols v. State, 818 P.2D 691 (Alaska Ct. App. 1991), the court interpreted A.S. 11.16.110(2(B) in light of a plain reading and legislative intent.
The defendant appealed the trial court’s instruction to the jury that it could convict her if she acted recklessly regarding the results of the principal’s conduct under A.S. 11.16.110. Id. at 695. The court held that the trial court did err because it was clear from the plain language of A.S.
11.16.110 and the legislative history of that statute, that in order to convict her as an accomplice, the state must prove that she intended to promote or facilitate the commission of the offense. Id. at 695. The court first stated that the plain language of the statute ” .. seems to indicate that the accomplice must intend the commission of the particular crime charged.” Id.
at 692, See Ashenfelter v. State, 988 P.2d 120, 125 (Alaska Ct. App. 1999, Erickson v. State, 824 P.2d.
725, 730 (Alaska Ct. App. 1991). A defendant’s complicity is not established unless the state proves that the defendant acted with intent to bring about the specified result. There is no such thing as reckless accomplice behavior. Furthermore, the court relied on the legislative history of A.S.
11.16.110 in ord …