Supreme Court rules Alaskans a little bit less safe
ALVIN WASSILLIE DECISION HAS SB 91 RAMIFICATIONS
The Supreme Court of Alaska Friday issued a decision that may undermine the safety and security of Alaskans.
In the case of Wassillie vs. Alaska, an inmate at a halfway house in Anchorage was seen by another inmate to be throwing what turned out to be a bottle of vodka into the house through an open window.
Alvin Wassillie was serving out the remainder of a felony sentence at Anchorage’s Parkview Center halfway house in 2010. He left the facility to look for a job. About the time he returned, staff saw someone toss a bag through an open window into the upstairs room.
Staff went upstairs and searched and found the bag with a bottle of vodka in it. The security manager identified Wassillie as the one who had thrown the bag, which presumably contained the contraband alcohol.
Since bringing alcohol into the halfway house was a rule violation, the staff called the Department of Corrections and made Wassillie wait in the lobby, as he was going back to jail. But DOC took hours to get there, so Wassillie decided to walk away.
Police located him later that night about three miles away.
The Superior Court jury found Wassillie guilty of escaping the halfway house, and on appeal, the ruling was upheld. But the Alaska Supreme Court heard the case and ruled that because the halfway house staff member who filed the incident report on the escape didn’t testify before the grand jury, that the incident report was just hearsay.
The conviction was overturned.
A 2015 audit of Parkview Centershows the organization met or exceeded all standards for safety, training, and monitoring of both inmates and staff. Yet, the center’s incident report wasn’t good enough for the Supreme Court, although the State had argued that it fall under Alaska Evidence Rule 803(6). That rule creates a hearsay exception for “business records,” reports, memos, and official data.
The State had countered that the incident report fell under the business records exception to the hearsay rule, and that even if it was inadmissible hearsay, the conviction should not be reversed because any error in the grand jury proceeding was later made harmless by what was ruled an error-free trial.
Two of the Supreme Court judges dissented from the majority position that the incident report was hearsay.
This case is important to the safety of Alaskans because many criminals, under the State’s new relaxed criminal justice practices allowed through SB 91, will spend time in house arrest, in halfway houses, or with electronic monitors while they await their trial, and pre-trial release conditions will include limits on their behavior and movements.
If a corrections staff report is inadmissible at the Supreme Court, criminals will have an advantage if they challenge a charge of breaking the conditions of their release.
Today, the public is safe from Alvin Wassillie, who is behind bars at Goose Creek Correctional Institution, where he awaits trial on a subsequent charge: “penetration without consent” or rape, as it’s usually called. It’s just one in a long list of crimes he’s either committed or been arrested for in his 44 years.
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.