Reasons vary for dismissals

Posted: Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Editor's note: This is the second of a two-part series looking at criminal charges that are dismissed by the court in Kenai and why charges are dismissed.

During 2002, 1,288 criminal charges were dismissed from among 4,131 charges brought in 2,341 Kenai criminal court cases.

In most cases, motions for dismissal are brought by the District Attorney, who for one reason or another decides not to prosecute a charge.

Alaska court rules state that a prosecuting attorney may file a dismissal of an indictment and the prosecution shall terminate upon the filing.

The rules of court also state the court may dismiss an indictment if there is an unnecessary delay in presenting the charge to a grand jury or in bringing a defendant to trial pursuant to another court rule that provides for a speedy trial.

Kenai Superior Court Judge Harold M. Brown said the court also may dismiss a case if there is a violation of the law.

"For instance, if there has been an improper search or an invalid arrest or if an offender's confession is tainted. The court may dismiss the case or rule that a portion of the evidence should be suppressed," Brown said, meaning the evidence would not be allowed in court.

Brown described the court as a system designed to "see how we can deliver our product -- justice -- from point A to point B without too many collisions."

Like District Attorney Dwayne McConnell, Brown said the court system is somewhat burdened by not having sufficient resources.

"The shortfall calls for some cases to be disposed of other than in a jury trial," he said. "The same is true for the public defender's office. They're getting a pitch from the defendants saying they're innocent and they want to go to trial."

Kenai Police Chief Chuck Kopp also is aware of the limited resources of the prosecutor's office, but said, "We believe the District Attorney's office is bringing its prosecutorial resources to bear. Economics is a big factor, but we're committed to putting together a solid case that is well-documented."

Asked how police officers view court dismissals, Kopp said they can be discouraging to newer officers.

But they must keep the bigger picture in mind, he added.

In reference to reducing a charge from driving under the influence to reckless driving, Kopp tells newer officers to ask the question, "Are we making the community a safer place by taking drunk drivers off the road?"

"If the answer is yes, we can live with that," Kopp said.

Soldotna Police Chief Shirley Gifford, who has been a police supervisor for more than 20 years, said she tells officers, "We have a job to do -- investigate and charge appropriately with probable cause.

"We don't always get what we charge -- maybe we're not able to get probable cause," she said. "My message to the officers is that we will investigate all our cases, charge appropriately and send them forward."

She said she instructs officers to be thorough, ensuring that all interviews are complete, they've properly collected evidence, and their case is complete enough for the district attorney to bring it forward for prosecution.

Gifford said the officers also are the ones who have the contact with the victims and would like to see the cases prosecuted.

"They have more of a personal connection with the victims, and they want to see justice done," she said.

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