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Your Anchorage Criminal Case: The Basics

Last updated: September 30, 2013

You never thought this could happen. You've been arrested in Anchorage. You are likely scared and confused. Many questions are going through your mind. What is going to happen to me? Am I going to go to jail? Do I need a bail bond? Don't I have "the right to remain silent?" Where is the courthouse? What is an arraignment?

Since arrests occur in so many different situations, it is difficult to predict exactly what will happen. This article provides general information about the process in Anchorage for a criminal case, including what to expect from the criminal justice system.

The Arrest

You've seen it on television. Perhaps a rerun of "Law and Order." Your criminal case in Alaska may not follow a Hollywood script, but it will usually follow a basic outline. You'll have contact with the police: the Anchorage Police Department, the Alaska State Troopers, the Alaska Department of Public Safety, or some other police agency.

If you're arrested, you will be (or should be) read your Miranda rights. Then, the police have two options: take you to jail or release you with a citation and promise to appear at a later date. If you're taken into custody, you'll be transported to the Anchorage Correctional Complex to await your first court appearance. The jail officials will fingerprint and photograph you. You have a right to call an attorney at this point. You will also be searched for weapons or drugs and may be asked to take a drug or alcohol test.

Under Alaska law, you must be informed of the charges against you and brought before a judge within 24 hours of your arrest for an arraignment and to set bail. Bail is basically the money that you have to pay to the courts in order to be released from jail pending trial. You usually have to put up 10% of the total amount of bail the judge sets in your case in order to secure your release.

All of this will happen at the Anchorage Superior or District Court where you will enter a plea of guilty, no contest, or not guilty. If you plead not guilty, you will have the option of hiring a lawyer, representing yourself, or asking for a public defender.

What happens next depends on whether you are accused of committing an infraction, felony, or misdemeanor.

Infraction

An infraction is the lowest level of offense and includes such crimes as traffic, wildlife, boating, marine fisheries, state park recreation and alcoholic beverage offenses. Don't expect the cops to bust your door down with drug-sniffing K-9s. The officer will issue you a citation stating you'll have to appear in court. If convicted, you can't be sentenced to jail - a fine of less than $300 is the maximum punishment allowable for an infraction. If you want to contest the violation, where you appear depends on whether it's a city or county ticket. Tickets issued by the Anchorage Police Department are handled directly with the city; generally, other tickets are handled on county levels.

In some instances, you can simply pay the fine online or by mail. If you aren't sure, contact the court at (907) 264-0713.

Misdemeanor Cases

Misdemeanors are less serious crimes, but take note, a conviction or guilty plea can have consequences for your career, your educational opportunities, and your freedom. In Anchorage, a typical misdemeanor case will take anywhere from one to five months.

Common Alaska misdemeanors include minor drug possession, drug paraphernalia possession, petty theft (valued between $50-$500), assaults, stalking, certain traffic offenses, threats, prostitution, some domestic violence, driving under the influence (DUI), and several traffic offenses.

The prosecutor has a time limit of five years from the dates of the alleged offense, also called statute of limitations, to charge you with a crime.

Felony Cases

Felonies are serious crimes that carry serious penalties including years of prison time, large fines, and major repercussions for your life outside of prison. The statute of limitations for most non-violent felonies is five years. Violent felonies such as robbery, assault and battery, and manslaughter carry a 10-year time limit. There is no statute of limitations for murder, felony sexual abuse of a minor, certain other sexual assaults or kidnapping.

Your case will start in district court and will either be submitted to the grand jury or in front of a judge for a preliminary hearing. After the grand jury or preliminary hearing stage, the district attorney may make a plea offer on your case. However, in some cases including violent felonies the prosecutor is forbidden from cutting deals with defendants about how much jail time they'd face in exchange for a guilty plea. Prosecutors still have the freedom to offer the defendant the ability to plead to a lesser charge.

Trial

You've rejected the offer and want to go to trial. The State must prove you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Here is what to expect.

In a misdemeanor case, you have the right to a jury trial by six members of the community. They will hear the evidence and determine whether the State has proved your guilt. If the jury finds you not guilty, the case ends and you may go free. If you are found guilty, the judge will impose a sentence in your case ranging from a small fine, to probation, to an active jail sentence of up to one year.

In a felony case, if you go to trial in superior court you automatically have the right to a jury trial where 12 randomly selected members of the community decide your guilt or innocence.

In either case, if you are convicted you may appeal your conviction to the Alaska Appellate Court. Criminal cases can have a serious, lasting impact on your life. You have options and rights. Anyone charged with an offense should seriously consider consulting a skilled attorney to protect their rights.