Kristen M. Renberg, PhD
Chinuhuk v. State
In Chinuhuk v. State, 472 P.3d 511 (Alaska 2020), the supreme court held that trial courts do not have the discretion to reduce probation if an offender was previously sentenced to the statutory minimum period of probation because the legislature intended for a sex offender’s sentence to have a period of imprisonment along with a period of mandatory probation. (Id. at 512–13). This case concerns the consolidated claims of three sex offenders who were sentenced under AS §12.55.125(o), which was in effect from April 2006 to July 2016. (Id. at 513). Each petitioner repeatedly violated his probation conditions and sought to vacate his probation by exchanging longer periods of incarceration for freedom from the supervision associated with probation. (Id. at 513–14). Their petitions were denied. (Id). While their claims were on appeal, the legislature enacted Senate Bill 91, which repealed §12.55.125(o). (Id. at 514). After the petitioners filed their motions with the court of appeals, but before the court issued its decision, the legislature passed Senate Bill 54, which had the effect of substantially reinstating the language of § 12.55.125(o). (Id.). In reviewing the text and legislative history behind § 12.55.125(o), the supreme court concluded the legislature intended for the petitioners to be sentenced to a period of imprisonment and a period of probation. (Id. at 517–19). The court noted how the legislative history emphasized the important role that mandatory probation plays in deterring repeat sexual offenders. (Id. at 518). The court also notes that Senate Bill 91 and the repeal of § 12.55.125(o) does not have a retroactive application for the petitioners’ probation conditions because the petitioners’ penalties were imposed at their sentencing and the state’s saving statute prevents elimination of penalties through a repealed law. (Id. at 520–21). In affirming the court of appeals, the supreme court held the legislature intended for sex offenders’ initial sentence to have two components: a period of imprisonment and mandatory probation; therefore, the petitioners remain subject to mandatory probation imposed under former § 12.55.125(o). (Id. at 512–13).