Sackett v. State, A-13716

CourtCourt of Appeals of Alaska
Writing for the CourtHARBISON JUDGE
PartiesRONALD DEAN SACKETT, Appellant, v. STATE OF ALASKA, Appellee.
Docket NumberA-13716
Decision Date23 September 2022

RONALD DEAN SACKETT, Appellant,
v.

STATE OF ALASKA, Appellee.

No. A-13716

Court of Appeals of Alaska

September 23, 2022


Appeal from the Superior Court, Third Judicial District, Trial Court No. 3KN-10-01858 CR Kenai, Jason M. Gist, Judge.

Elizabeth D. Friedman, Law Office of Elizabeth D. Friedman, Prineville, Oregon, under contract with the Office of Public Advocacy, Anchorage, for the Appellant.

Ann B. Black, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Criminal Appeals, Anchorage, and Treg R. Taylor, Attorney General, Juneau, for the Appellee.

Before: Allard, Chief Judge, and Wollenberg and Harbison, Judges.

OPINION

HARBISON JUDGE

Ronald Dean Sackett appeals the trial court's denial of his motion to correct an illegal sentence. Sackett argues that he was denied the right to counsel. We agree,

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and we therefore vacate the trial court's order denying Sackett's motion and remand this case to the trial court for renewed consideration of the motion.

Background facts

Sackett was convicted, following a guilty plea, of one count of attempted first-degree sexual abuse of a minor. The trial court imposed a sentence of 30 years' incarceration. Sackett subsequently filed a motion to correct an illegal sentence, arguing inter alia, that the sentence imposed by the trial court exceeded the maximum sentence authorized by law.[1] He also filed a motion for court-appointed counsel.[2]

In response, the trial court issued an order appointing the Alaska Public Defender Agency to represent Sackett and holding the underlying motion in abeyance. The court ordered Sackett's attorney to file, within sixty days, "a statement of intent to adopt Sackett's Motion [to Correct an Illegal Sentence] as is, an amended motion on Sackett's behalf, or a rule 35(e) certificate that Sackett is not entitled to relief."[3]

After a period of delay during which the Public Defender Agency failed to comply with this order, the trial court scheduled a hearing and ordered the Agency to appear and show cause as to why it should not be held in contempt of court.[4] An

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attorney from the Agency appeared at this hearing. This attorney told the court that the Agency had a conflict of interest and would be withdrawing from representing Sackett. The lawyer noted that the case would be sent to the Office of Public Advocacy (OPA), but that he did not know whether the matter would be handled by one of OPA's staff attorneys or a conflict counsel.

Hearing this, the court announced that once a new attorney was appointed, it would "re-issue the order [it] issued before, just to . . . tell counsel to meet with Mr. Sackett to review the filings and... figure out where we're going to go on any of this." The court scheduled another status hearing for approximately one month later, explaining, "[I]f I just waited for OPA to have somebody enter an appearance, [the case] would fall off the radar .... So I'm going to set [the status hearing] for March 20th. Hopefully, OPA will have entered their appearance by then and then we can get OPA up to speed on what needs to be done."

But no substitute attorney filed an entry of appearance on behalf of Sackett, and no defense attorney appeared at the March 20 hearing. Sackett was also absent. The court nevertheless conducted an ex parte hearing, telling the district attorney that Sackett had filed an application for post-conviction relief which raised the same claims that were at issue in the pending motion to correct an illegal sentence. The court explained that it was inclined to consolidate the pending motion to correct an illegal sentence into the post-conviction relief action.

In response, the district attorney asked the court to instead deny the pending motion to correct an illegal sentence, but to note in its denial order that the issues raised in the motion could be litigated in the post-conviction relief action. The court agreed to

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this course of action. The court subsequently issued a written order denying Sackett's motion to correct an illegal sentence, noting that Sackett was not precluded from litigating his illegal sentence claim in the post-conviction relief case.

This appeal followed.

Why we reverse the trial court's order denying Sackett's motion

Sackett has framed his appeal as a challenge to the trial court's decision to deny his motion before his court-appointed attorney had reviewed his case or entered an appearance. As we are about to explain, we agree with Sackett that the trial court violated his right to counsel in this case. But we are also troubled by a second aspect of this case: the trial court's decision to proceed with a substantive hearing on March 20 even though neither Sackett nor his counsel was present.[5] We conclude that the trial court should not have discussed Sackett's motion with the district attorney during a hearing that was conducted outside the presence of Sackett and his counsel, and it similarly should not have then denied Sackett's motion without giving him notice of its intention to do so and an opportunity to be heard.

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