Column: It’s time to help victims, improve justice, and at no cost to the state

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By CAROL FRASER, KC HOSTETLER, IVY CERDENA

Why are Alaska crime victims still required to carry the most burden, endure the most trauma, and experience the most frustration of any “participant” in Alaska’s criminal justice system?

The obvious answer is, they absolutely should not.

And yet, for some unknown reason, under current Alaska law and court rules, victims of felony crimes must testify at criminal grand jury proceedings, reliving what is, most likely, the worst day of their lives. This means that a woman who has been raped will be forced to testify again, only weeks or days after the rape, even though the information already has been provided to law enforcement, the prosecutor, medical personnel, and/or the judge.

Even in property crimes, larceny, car theft, and other felonies, the completely unnecessary burden to appear at grand jury proceedings is placed on the victim. Why? The victim didn’t do anything wrong! Yet, it is the victim who is required to repeat their story multiple times for no purpose. This ridiculous requirement contributes to the court’s backlog, delays the process, hurts victims, impedes justice, and increases the cost to the state – all while being completely unnecessary!

The entire purpose of the criminal grand jury proceeding is to determine if there is enough evidence to go to trial. That is it – period. It is not a forum for prosecution, it is not to face your accuser, nor does it determine guilt or innocence. The defendant is not present, and there is no reason for the victim to be present.

Many states do not have grand jury proceedings at all, the prosecutor simply presents the evidence to a judge, and the judge determines if there is enough evidence to proceed to trial. For states that do have grand jury proceedings, most, including the federal government do not require victims to be at grand jury proceedings. Alaska’s requirement is the worst in the country for victims.

This absolutely must change.

This change is supported by, and a priority for Standing Together Against Rape (STAR), Victims for Justice (VFJ), Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (ANDVSA), Catholic Social Services, Child Advocacy Centers, Covenant House, MyHouse Mat-Su, and many others.

By making this one (no cost) public policy change – removing the requirement for victims to appear at criminal grand jury proceedings – we can help, and positively impact 6,000-7,000 Alaska victims every year. What is most amazing to us, is that this simple change has not been made already.

Please join us and immediately contact all members of the of Alaska State Legislature and ask them to make this change before they leave Juneau this year.

This is the right thing to do for victims, for Alaska, and for justice. And it is needed right now.

The authors of this column are Anchorage residents.

18 COMMENTS

    • In over twenty years LE across this state, most of which working felony cases, I have NEVER taken notice of that.

      There are a few judges that are slightly lenient at sentencing, but if you want someone to blame, look at the District Attorneys.

      State judges and magistrates have little discretion except to follow the law, the US constitution, the Alaska constitution, superior court instruction, and precedent.

      Again, look at the prosecutors. Look at the very very generous plea deals that defendants are gifted by district attorneys too lazy to go to trial.

  1. Grand Jury proceedings are separate and outside of a court to determine if a subject has enough charges to go to trial. Therefore, the victim or representative needs to appear and aid in holding the subject accountable if a real crime has been committed against the victim.
    Court appearances are absolutely necessary to obtain justice.

  2. Why hasn’t a change been made to assist victims? As usual, it seems a lot of the elected officials in Alaska are clueless.

    • Because the victims aren’t being subject to the full peril of government prosecution the way a potential defendant is.

      The crime victim has already suffered a loss, generally at the hands of one individual.

      The grand jury system for felonies is not a “lock” that someone will be prosecuted in the same way that a judge or magistrate finding probable cause on an affidavit it.

      Additionally, and frankly it needs to be said, a false or inaccurate statement by a victim to a LEO isn’t generally prosecutable as a False Report but it can and does frequently become part of an affidavit.

      A false or purposefully misleading statement to a grand jury is prosecutable.

      Yes, every citizen, even every potential defendant is entitled to that protection.

      No, I’m not some lily-livered liberal. I’ve been career LE and have been before judges and magistrates in most of Alaska’s judicial districts.

      Why should alleged victims testify at grand jury? Because even alleged victims regularly lie to law enforcement…and we’re the ones who write those charging documents.

  3. We could help by having some stronger sentences and better deterrence to make criminals think about what’s going to happen if they commit crimes.

  4. I’ve served on a few grand juries. Once we were presented a child sexual abuse case. It was difficult to hear. The Assistant DA presented witness after witness. After yet another witness laid out more disgusting facts, one of the jurors asked the prosecutor why it must go on. “Let us vote. You’ll get a bill.” She explained that the defense would delay the trial as long as they could, then (among many other tactics) use that time to attack trial testimony with the excuse that time degrades memory. By presenting all testimony before the grand jury, it is as fresh as possible, under oath, and on the record.
    We told her to keep bringing the disgusting details.
    The problems with crime are light sentences and early release after conviction, not police brutality and aggressive prosecution. Put criminals away, not for revenge or even punishment, but because they need to be segregated from society for the protection of the innocent.
    Luke 16:26

    • For one thing, if there is significant exculpatory (that which tends to disprove the allegations) the state is generally required to present that also.

      So the DA often feels the need to weigh one side of the scale so much that the indictment doesn’t get dismissed.

      So yes, it is a burden to jurors, and as an LEO all I can say is thank you for stepping outside of the bubble that we try to provide you. Now that you’ve sat in a GJ, you have a hint of what many LE deal with every day.

  5. Oh. Just throw out the US Constitution? No. It says if you accuse YOU face the one you accuse. I know in Alaska it seems like it is “too hard” but the US Constitution may remain slightly intact in spite of the traitorous tendencies taught by the left.

  6. Disagree. Strongly.

    If the state wishes to deprive a person of their rights and freedoms to that degree, the defendant damn well has the right to confront the accuser.

    Especially in these days of some men being guilty because they are men. Regardless of the facts or the state’s ability to prove them.

    • As a career LEO who has worked I wholeheartedly agree with you.

      ALL citizens should enjoy and feel secure under the protection of our laws.

  7. My husband was on grand jury duty. He said it was horrible what the victims had to go through testifying to the grand jury what happened.
    He also found out something else that needs to change, that is how children are required to know the exact date of a crime. With small children that are molested, this is definitely a ridiculous requirement. Without a date and time, prosecutors won’t charge the crime or will plead the crime down to nothing.
    Grand jury duty is one of the most horrible things someone goes through. It lasts for 3 months in Anchorage. A huge amount of your time is given to this.
    So many prosecutors are terrible and don’t give a damn. It was heart breaking listening to my husband and what he went through for 3 months.

  8. The purpose of the Grand Jury is to determine whether there is enough evidence to go to trial. The US constitution guarantees the right to face your accuser at trial. Most states do not have a grand jury system, but had have a judge holding evidentiary hearings to determine if there is enough evidence. This proposal would allow rape victims to not relive, again, the worst day of their life, often only a few weeks after the rape. At trial they would still be required to testify. If your truck is stolen, you literally have to spend the day to answer a couple of questions; Was your truck stolen? Yes. Did you report it? Yes. Do you know the guy who was driving it? No.
    This process is NOT the trial and can be either a huge hassle or simply cruel to victims.

    • I wholeheartedly disagree with you, and I work with victims. I’m LE, career.

      The deal is, we can easily create victims of the State by simply bypassing grand juries and relying upon statements written upon an affidavit, statements which are quite often inaccurate or even sometimes falsely to LE.

      As harsh as it sounds, we can easily create victims as false defendanta by removing the requirement that vicrims testify.

  9. It is cruel to destroy our form of government as well and traitorous. Some trials are mere political vendettas as former President Trump’s politically motivated public scathing demonstrates. An innocent person must vociferously challenge mere accusations from quivering liars before they get to trial resources.

  10. Two big problems to this proposed change are 1) false accusations and 2) prosecutors and judges who allow those false accusations to stand.

    Several years ago, a Juneau grand jury indicted a man after hearing the tearful testimony of a woman who said she had been sexually assaulted. One half hour later, one of the grand jurors who voted to indict was at the downtown bus station and observed the same woman laughing and giggling, telling someone on the phone, “If you want to get rid of someone you don’t want around, accuse them of rape, take it to the grand jury, and it will all be said and done.”

    The grand juror later returned to the courthouse and told a judge, in the presence of a prosecutor, what he had observed and that he wanted to change his vote, believing the woman was “playing the system”.

    The judge and the prosecutor did nothing, the grand juror was never contacted by the police regarding this strong evidence of perjury, and the indictment was allowed to stand.

    Once a grand jury indictment is issued in a sexual assault case it can take $200,000 to hire a good attorney to defend against the charges and ensure a fair trial. Most Alaskans can’t afford that and this is why grand juries are so essential in discerning the truth.

    There are many women throughout Alaska who continue to suffer from the consequences of false accusations – wives, mothers, sisters and nieces of wrongfully convicted men. One of those victims of the false allegation in the Juneau case, a young woman who is a rape victim herself, described the intense pain that false accusations cause her.

    The proposed changes will make it easier for false accusations to be brought and increase the numbers of these victims. This issue has to be addressed together with those raised by the authors.

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