State v. Jouppi

Docket NumberCourt of Appeals No. A-13147
Decision Date23 September 2022
Citation519 P.3d 653
Parties STATE of Alaska, Appellant, v. Kenneth John JOUPPI, Appellee.
CourtAlaska Court of Appeals

Donald Soderstrom, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Criminal Appeals, Anchorage, and Kevin G. Clarkson, Attorney General, Juneau, for the Appellant.

Robert John, Law Office of Robert John, Fairbanks, for the Appellee.

Before: Allard, Chief Judge, Wollenberg, Judge, and Mannheimer, Senior Judge.*


Judge ALLARD, writing for the Court.

Kenneth John Jouppi and his air transport company, Ken Air, LLC, were convicted of unlawfully importing alcoholic beverages into a local option community.1 (A "local option" community is a community that has exercised its option under AS 04.11.491 to restrict or prohibit the importation of alcohol.)

When a person or entity is convicted of unlawful importation of alcoholic beverages into a local option community, Alaska law requires the forfeiture of any aircraft used to facilitate the transportation of the alcoholic beverages into the local option community.2

At sentencing, Jouppi and Ken Air argued that this mandatory forfeiture provision did not apply to them because Jouppi was apprehended as he was preparing to take off — i.e. , before any alcoholic beverages were actually transported to the local option community. Jouppi also argued that, under the facts of his case, the mandated forfeiture would violate the state and federal constitutional prohibitions on excessive fines.

The district court initially ruled that the mandatory forfeiture provision of the statute did not apply to Jouppi because he was apprehended before the alcoholic beverages were transported to the local option community. The State appealed this ruling, and we reversed the district court's ruling because we interpreted the statute as requiring forfeiture of the airplane regardless of whether the transportation of the alcoholic beverages was completed or only attempted. We then remanded Jouppi's case to the district court for further proceedings.3

On remand, the district court found that Jouppi's airplane was worth approximately $95,000, and the court ruled that forfeiture of this airplane would constitute an unconstitutionally excessive fine because the monetary amount of the forfeiture was "grossly disproportional to the gravity of the offense."

The State now appeals this ruling. For the reasons explained in this opinion, we conclude that additional proceedings are required to determine whether the forfeiture of Jouppi's airplane constitutes an excessive fine — and, if so, whether a partial forfeiture should be ordered.

Background facts and prior proceedings

Jouppi and his wife were the two principals of Ken Air, LLC, an air transport business. Jouppi was the only pilot working for Ken Air, and he owned the airplane involved in this case — an airplane that he leased to Ken Air.

On April 3, 2012, Alaska state troopers observed Jouppi help a passenger, Helen Nicholia, load her cargo into the airplane as it sat on the tarmac at the Fairbanks Airport. Nicholia had booked passage to Beaver, a village that had totally prohibited the importation of alcoholic beverages. After Jouppi started the engine and prepared to take off, the troopers approached the plane and directed Jouppi to shut off the engine. The troopers then executed a previously issued search warrant for the airplane.

As the troopers looked through the plane's windows, they could see beer in a plastic grocery bag sitting unsecured in the plane. They testified that the beer was in plain sight, obvious to any observer. The troopers ultimately found a total of nine gallons of beer in the boxes and bags that Jouppi had loaded into the airplane.

Both Jouppi and Ken Air were charged with unlawful transportation of alcoholic beverages into a local option community.4 Because the amount of beer was less than twelve gallons, this charge was a class A misdemeanor.5 For this offense, Jouppi faced a potential penalty of up to 1 year of imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000.6 Because Ken Air was a corporate entity, it faced a potential fine of up to $500,000.7

In addition to the imprisonment and the fines, Jouppi and Ken Air also faced mandatory forfeiture of the aircraft that was used to facilitate the transportation of the beer to the local option community.8

Following a jury trial, both Jouppi and Ken Air were convicted of violating AS 04.11.499(a). The district court sentenced Jouppi to 180 days of imprisonment with 177 days suspended (3 days to serve), and the court imposed a fine of $3,000 with $1,500 suspended ($1,500 to pay). The district court imposed a fine of $10,000 with $8,500 suspended (again, $1,500 to pay) against Ken Air.

As we have already explained, the district court initially ruled that the applicable statutes did not mandate forfeiture of the airplane involved in this offense, but we reversed this ruling on appeal. When Jouppi's case returned to the district court, the court addressed the other arguments against forfeiture by Jouppi and Ken Air. First, Ken Air argued that it had no ownership interest in the airplane because it only leased the airplane from Jouppi, who was the registered owner. The court held an evidentiary hearing, and ultimately found, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the airplane was owned solely by Jouppi. (This finding has not been appealed by the State, and is not at issue in this appeal.) The court also found that the airplane was worth $95,000.

Next, the district court addressed Jouppi's argument that forfeiture of the airplane would constitute an excessive fine in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 12 of the Alaska Constitution. Ultimately, the court ruled that the forfeiture would constitute an unconstitutionally excessive fine because it was "grossly disproportional" to the gravity of Jouppi's offense.9 The court stated that it reached this ruling because the value of the plane (approximately $95,000) was nine and a half times the maximum fine that could have been imposed on Jouppi. The court also reasoned that Jouppi's offense was "not nearly as egregious as other conduct that could result in mandatory forfeiture of a plane under the applicable statutes."

Although the district court cited United States v. Bajakajian (one of the seminal United States Supreme Court cases on the application of the Excessive Fines Clause to forfeitures of property), the district court did not expressly apply a Bajakajian analysis when it ruled that the forfeiture of Jouppi's airplane was unconstitutionally excessive.10

The State now appeals the district court's ruling.

The legal background that informs our analysis of this case

The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution declares: "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted." Article I, Section 12 of the Alaska Constitution contains identical language.11 The Eighth Amendment prohibition against excessive fines is applicable to the States under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.12

Under the pertinent decisions of the United States Supreme Courtthe cases in which the Supreme Court has construed the Excessive Fines Clause as it relates to forfeitures of property — any Eighth Amendment challenge to a forfeiture involves a two-step analysis.13 First, a court must determine whether the forfeiture is a "fine" for purposes of the Excessive Fines Clause.14 This step requires the court to evaluate whether the forfeiture constitutes a "punishment" or if, instead, it is "purely remedial" in nature (e.g. , designed to recoup the Government's losses and/or costs).15

Second, if the court determines that the forfeiture is not purely remedial, the court must then determine whether the forfeiture is unconstitutionally excessive by comparing the forfeiture to the gravity of the offense.16 Bajakajian holds that a punitive forfeiture violates the Excessive Fines Clause if "the amount of the forfeiture is grossly disproportional to the gravity of the defendant's offense."17

In determining whether a forfeiture is "grossly disproportional" to the offense, a court should be guided by the factors articulated in Bajakajian .18 These factors include: (1) the nature and extent of the defendant's crime and its relation to other criminal activity, (2) whether the defendant falls within the class of persons at whom the statute was principally aimed, (3) the other penalties that might be imposed on the defendant under the applicable provisions of law, and (4) the nature and extent of the harm caused by the defendant's offense.19

Any findings of fact required by this analysis are to be made by the sentencing court using a preponderance of the evidence standard.20 On appeal, we will accept the trial court's findings of fact unless they are shown to be clearly erroneous.21 However, the ultimate question of whether a forfeiture is unconstitutionally excessive is a question of law that we review de novo .22 In all cases, the burden is on the defendant to prove that the forfeiture in question constitutes an unconstitutionally excessive fine.23

In Jouppi's case, the State makes two different arguments as to why the forfeiture of Jouppi's airplane does not constitute an unconstitutionally excessive fine. First, the State argues that the Excessive Fines Clause does not apply to this case because Jouppi's airplane was an "instrumentality" of his offense. Second, the State argues that, even assuming the Excessive Fines Clause applies, the district court erred when it concluded that forfeiture of Jouppi's airplane was "grossly disproportional" to the gravity of Jouppi's offense. In the alternative, the State argues that, even assuming that forfeiture of the airplane is unconstitutionally excessive, the proper remedy is to order a partial forfeiture.

We address each of these arguments...

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