Kangas v. State, 032720 AKCA, A-12720

Docket Nº:A-12720
Opinion Judge:MANNHEIMER JUDGE.
Party Name:NATHANIAL L. KANGAS, Appellant, v. STATE OF ALASKA, Appellee.
Attorney:Renee McFarland, Assistant Public Defender, and Quinlan Steiner, Public Defender, Anchorage, for the Appellant. Patricia L. Haines, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Criminal Appeals, Anchorage, and Jahna Lindemuth, Attorney General, Juneau, for the Appellee.
Judge Panel:Before: Allard, Chief Judge, and Coats and Mannheimer*, Senior Judges.
Case Date:March 27, 2020
Court:Court of Appeals of Alaska
 
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NATHANIAL L. KANGAS, Appellant,

v.

STATE OF ALASKA, Appellee.

No. A-12720

Court of Appeals of Alaska

March 27, 2020

Appeal from the Superior Court, Fourth Judicial District, Fairbanks, Trial Court No. 4TA-14-00011 CR, Paul R. Lyle, Judge.

Renee McFarland, Assistant Public Defender, and Quinlan Steiner, Public Defender, Anchorage, for the Appellant.

Patricia L. Haines, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Criminal Appeals, Anchorage, and Jahna Lindemuth, Attorney General, Juneau, for the Appellee.

Before: Allard, Chief Judge, and Coats [*] and Mannheimer*, Senior Judges.

OPINION

MANNHEIMER JUDGE.

Nathanial L. Kangas shot and killed two Alaska State Troopers who had come to Tanana to arrest his father, Arvin Kangas. Kangas also used the same firearm to threaten the local Village Public Safety Officer who accompanied the two troopers, but Kangas allowed this officer to leave unharmed. Kangas subsequently removed marijuana plants and seeds from the house where the shooting occurred. A detailed description of this episode is set out in our decision in Arvin Kangas's appeal: Kangas v. State, unpublished, 2018 WL 2999802 at *2-3 (Alaska App. 2018).

Based on this incident, Nathanial Kangas was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder (as well as one count of third-degree assault and one count of first-degree tampering with evidence).

Because the jury found that Kangas intentionally killed the two troopers when he knew that they were acting in the performance of their duties, Kangas was subject to a mandatory term of 99 years' imprisonment on each of the murder counts.1And under the provisions of Alaska's consecutive sentencing statute, the superior court was required to impose these two 99-year sentences consecutively, for a composite term of 198 years' imprisonment.2

In this appeal, Kangas claims that one of the trial judge's instructions to the jury was improper, and that his convictions must therefore be reversed. For the reasons explained in this opinion, we hold that the challenged jury instruction was proper.

Kangas also argues that his privilege against self-incrimination was violated when the superior court issued a pre-trial order under AS 12.47.070(a) - that is, an order directing that Kangas be examined by two forensic psychologists to assess his mental condition. Although the State did not overtly use the results of these mental examinations during Kangas's trial, Kangas asserts that he is entitled to a new trial because the State cannot show (beyond a reasonable doubt) that its evidence was derived completely independently from these mental examinations. In the alternative, Kangas argues that he is at least entitled to be re-sentenced, since the superior court expressly relied on the results of these examinations at Kangas's sentencing hearing.

For the reasons explained in this opinion, we conclude that these mental examinations did not violate Kangas's privilege against self-incrimination.

Finally, Kangas raises an issue pertaining to one of Alaska's sentencing statutes, AS 12.55. l25(j). This statute declares that when a defendant is sentenced to a mandatory 99-year term of imprisonment for first-degree murder, the defendant is entitled to apply for a modification or reduction of their sentence after they have served one-half of the mandatory 99-year term - i.e., after they have served 491/2 years.

The question presented in Kangas's case is how to apply this statute to defendants who, like Kangas, have received two or more consecutive mandatory 99-year terms of imprisonment. As we explain in this opinion, we interpret AS 12.55. 125(j) to mean that Kangas is eligible to apply for a modification or reduction of his sentence after he has served 491/2 chronological years of his 198-year composite sentence (i.e., 491/2 years, without any reduction for good time credit).

Kangas's challenge to the jury instruction which told the jurors that they were allowed to infer Kangas's mental state from the circumstantial evidence of his actions

As we mentioned earlier, Kangas was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder based on the fact that he shot and killed the two state troopers.

One of the elements of first-degree murder-that is, one of the allegations that the State was required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt-was that Kangas acted with an intent to kill when he shot the two troopers.3 In other words, the State had to prove that Kangas acted with the conscious objective of causing human death.4

When Kangas's trial judge instructed the jurors at the conclusion of the trial, he included an instruction which told the jurors that the State was allowed to rely on Kangas's actions as circumstantial evidence of whether Kangas possessed this culpable mental state. Kangas's trial attorney did not object to this instruction, but Kangas now asserts that it was plain error for the judge to give this instruction.

The first two paragraphs of the challenged instruction read as follows: [A person's] mental state or state of mind may be proved by circumstantial evidence. It rarely can be established by any other means. While witnesses may see and hear... what a defendant does or fails to do, there can be no eyewitness to the mental state or state of mind with which the acts were done or omitted. But what a defendant does or fails to do may indicate [their] state of mind or mental state or [their] lack of state of mind or mental state.

It is reasonable to infer that a person ordinarily intends the natural and probable consequences of acts he knowingly does or knowingly omits. Any such reasonable inference is entitled to be considered by the jury in determining whether or not the prosecution has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant possessed the required state of mind or mental state.

The instruction then concluded with a third paragraph which emphasized that the jury was entitled to consider, not only the defendant's actions, but also the defendant's statements - and, indeed, "all facts and circumstances in evidence": In determining issues of state of mind or mental state, the jury is entitled to consider any statements made, and acts done or omitted by the accused, and all facts and circumstances in evidence which may aid [in the] determination of state of mind or mental state.

In past decisions, the Alaska Supreme Court has approved nearly identical jury instructions. See Calantas v. State, 608 P.2d 34, 36 (Alaska 1980), and Gipson v. State, 609 P.2d 1038, 1042 (Alaska 1980). But in this appeal, Kangas argues that this jury instruction constitutes plain error. Kangas offers two theories as to why the instruction is improper.

First, Kangas argues that this jury instruction is improper because it allows the jury to infer a person's culpable mental state from their actions.

Kangas notes that when the Alaska legislature enacted our current criminal code, the legislature included statutory definitions of four culpable mental states: "intentionally", "knowingly", "recklessly", and "with culpable negligence". See AS 11.81.900(a)(1)-(4).

Kangas further notes that these four statutory definitions do not contain any reference to circumstantial proof. That is, the definitions of these culpable mental states do not expressly provide that a person's culpable mental state (or lack of culpable mental state) may validly be inferred from their actions.

Because the statutory definitions of the four culpable mental states do not expressly authorize a jury to infer a person's mental state from their actions, Kangas argues that the Alaska legislature must have intended to restrict the role of circumstantial evidence in proving these culpable mental states.

More specifically, Kangas claims that the legislature crafted these four statutory definitions so that the government would not be allowed to rely solely on a defendant's acts (or omissions) as circumstantial proof of the defendant's mental state. Rather, according to Kangas, any time the government relies on circumstantial evidence to establish one of the four culpable mental states defined in AS 11.81.900(a), the government's proof must consist of "more than an inference from [the defendant's] knowing conduct".

Kangas's argument is unconvincing. The purpose of the four statutory definitions is to explain what must be proved to establish each particular culpable mental state. But these statutory definitions do not purport to explain or control the types of evidence that can be used to establish (or rebut) the government's allegation of a culpable mental state.

It is a long-standing tenet of Alaska law that there is no legal distinction between direct evidence and circumstantial evidence. When assessing the sufficiency of the evidence to support a criminal conviction, courts apply the same standard regardless of whether the government's case is based on direct or circumstantial evidence.5

As our supreme court declared in Sivertsen v. State, 981 P.2d 564, 567 (Alaska 1999), "In the case of a specific-intent crime, the jury is permitted to infer intent from circumstantial evidence such as conduct". Indeed, in Calantas v. State, 608 P.2d at 36, our supreme court expressly approved a jury instruction that "clearly informed the jurors that... it was...

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