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Tuesday, January 22, 2019
HomeColumnsFormer prosecutor: Schneider sentence makes no sense

Former prosecutor: Schneider sentence makes no sense

By VAL VAN BROCKLIN
GUEST CONTRIBUTOR

I prosecuted sex crimes in Alaska. I can’t reconcile myself to Justin Schneider’s sentence.

Schneider tackled a 25-year-old woman, tried to strangle her, said he was going to kill her. She lost consciousness believing that. When she came to, he’d ejaculated on her face and hair. He said he wasn’t going to kill her, he had needed her to think that to sexually gratify himself. Then he drove to his job as an air traffic controller.

The woman did everything right. She called 911 and went to the hospital. Detective Brett Sarber said she was so traumatized she could barely speak. But she did. The detective did everything right. He got her to trust and talk to him, gathered physical evidence, filed charges and Schneider was quickly arrested.

The things I can’t reconcile are the apparent lack of support for the victim and Schneider’s sentence.

[Read: Sentence was in accordance with law, State says]

Three days after the assault, she appeared telephonically at a bail hearing. She opposed releasing Schneider to his wife’s supervision, an ankle monitor, and a $30,000 performance bond, saying she feared for her safety. The prosecution agreed with the arrangement. Schneider got to go home. The victim had to live in fear. She testified at grand jury shortly after this. That was the last time records show she appeared in the case.

Over a year later, the prosecutor said he tried to reach her by phone for the sentencing. He said he would have had to send a detective to contact her. He should have. The investigators who handle these cases are dedicated. I believe Detective Sarber, who she trusted, would have gladly contacted her and offered to accompany her to the sentencing. I believe he would have done the same for a trial.

The Department of Law’s website describes Victim-Witness Coordinators. Their job is to stay in touch with victims, answer their questions, provide support and connect them with services. I relied on the ones I worked with immensely. I’ve seen no mention of their role with this victim.

Schneider was sentenced to two years with one suspended and credit for time on “house” arrest. No jail time to serve. The prosecutor agreed to this. He said the sentencing range for Schneider’s offense, given his lack of criminal history was, zero to two years. That’s partially true.

What wasn’t said is he could’ve filed statutory aggravators and argued they should significantly increase that range. Schneider’s case warranted two statutory aggravators:

  • His conduct manifested deliberate cruelty.
  • It was among the most serious included in the definition of the offense.

Schneider’s conduct was sadistic. It was about power, terror and degradation. The assault Schneider pleaded to can include bruising someone with a broom handle. The victim in this case might’ve died.

The prosecutor said he agreed to no jail time so Schneider would agree to sex-offender treatment, which couldn’t otherwise be ordered since he wasn’t convicted of a sex crime. I’m for treatment. But not to the extent it gets leveraged for no jail time. Deterrence can be effective, too.

More just would have been no agreement by prosecutors on the sentence. They could have argued the statutory aggravators called for significant jail time, letting defense counsel argue the defendant would voluntarily get treatment in exchange for some leniency.

The judge didn’t have to accept the sentence the parties proposed. He could have rejected it as too lenient, which would have entitled Schneider to withdraw his plea. The prosecutor would have then been negotiating with the leverage that the court was not going to accept no jail. The judge could’ve deferred sentencing and ordered a pre-sentence report.

Alaska law requires judges balance certain factors in sentencing. They include:

  • Defendant’s potential for rehabilitation
  • Seriousness of the offense
  • Harm done to the victim
  • Need to deter the defendant and others
  • Community condemnation
  • Restoration of the victim and community.

In KTVA’s footage of the judge’s remarks, he said it was clear the primary goal of the agreement was to facilitate Schneider’s rehabilitation. He embraced this. He brushed off deterrence of Schneider, saying he didn’t know what could be done to deter him. (That’s frightening. A pre-sentence report might’ve provided some insight.) He made no mention of deterring others. For community condemnation, he spoke of forgiveness.

There was no mention of the victim or her harm. The courtroom of white-collar professionals, including the defendant, all placed more value on the defendant’s possible future than the victim’s and what she had already suffered. If I, a professional with self-advocacy skills and status impacted by my trauma, were the victim, I suspect the sentence would’ve been different.

The prosecutor said the defendant losing his job was like a life sentence. It wasn’t. It was a collateral consequence of his criminal conduct. But to a prosecutor and judge, loss of their professional status and livelihood is terrible to contemplate. Both men identified with that more than the woman’s loss. She didn’t have socio-economic status. She was a 25-year-old Alaska Native woman without stable housing. She depended on the prosecution and the court to stand up for her.

To the victim, I’m sorry. You deserved better. Perhaps we will become better for your courage.

Val Van Brocklin is a former state and federal prosecutor in Alaska who now trains and writes nationally and internationally on criminal justice, leadership, and ethics.

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • This case was just an appalling example of how screwed up our criminal justice system is. But it is not really unexpected given this states recent “soft on crime” approach. Our politicians and bureaucrats seem to care more about the criminals than the victims of crime. As long as we keep electing wingnuts like the majority of our assembly members and legislators this is what we can expect.

  • Schneider should of been charged with attempted murder. Yet that conversation was never brought up by the prosecution or the judge. That’s what is messed up. That charge alone should of gotten him at least 10 years. There is no therapy for rapists. He is a sick INDIVIDUAL who should be locked up forever.

  • A couple of things. Why was he not charged with kidnapping when held her immobile? It specifically says that a person can be “kidnapped” to use as a shield. In other words, that she agreed to go with him at first is irrelevant. Secondly, his choking her was arguably sexual assault. He told her he choked her unconscious for his own sexual fulfillment. So he touched her sexually: he just has a different sexuality than most people. Third, what he did to her is a tort as well as a crime. Someone should hook her up with an attorney.

  • AFN is right around the corner. The list of VIP’s is big this year. Both US Senators, Congressman Young, Secretary of the VA Wilkie, Secretary of the Interior Zinke, top Military officials and a smattering of others. And don’t forget Governor Walker on his mea culpa tour. I think there is going to be a big opportunity for the natives to get a bit restless if you know what I mean. Let’s get ready to rumble and let some voices be heard. One thing I have not heard is Byron Mallott. Has he ever spoke up? Has he ever come out and said anything about this? This woman, a native woman, was tossed aside. Where is she? Is she being cared for? While Judge #betterstartlookingforajob was so concerned for that freak and his future, that poor woman was probably hiding in fear of her life. If she is reading this now, please know that we care about you!

  • This is so well written ! Thank you for speaking up for (all) victims of missing, murdered, sexually abused and sexually assaulted. Think this perverted-criminal-critter is going to stop? Think again. His brain is cross-wired and he is a sexual predator and deviant.
    Blessings to the victim and all those who TRIED to bring JUSTICE !

    Vote the bad judges out ( Jon Woodman in Palmer) and those who allow this type of injustice in their courtrooms. No bad plea deals !

  • Criminal charges of another inmate in pretrial lockup, Palmer, Alaska in 2011:

    Authorities charged: attempted murder for his part in a notorious Mat-Su Pretrial incident,
    in which an inmate spit in the face of a Department of Corrections official

    ” charged with attempted murder on the grounds that he knew he was infected with Hepatitis C, a lifelong and potentially fatal viral infection, according to the archives. Those charges were eventually downgraded to third- and fourth-degree assault and a single misdemeanor count of first-degree harassment by contact with offensive bodily fluids, court documents show.”