Court of Appeals of Alaska (2022)
In Sackett v. State, 518 P.3d 289 (Alaska Ct. App. 2022), the court of appeals held that the mere assignment of a public defense agency does not satisfy a defendant’s right to counsel. (Id. at 292). Following conviction and sentencing, criminal defendant Sackett filed a pro se motion to correct an illegal sentence. (Id. at 290). In addition, Sackett filed a motion for court-appointed counsel to represent him in his claim. (Id.). Ultimately, Sackett’s case was transferred to the Office of Public Advocacy. (Id.). Before any staff attorney was assigned, reviewed the case, or made an appearance, the trial judge agreed to hear the district attorney on the illegal sentence motion in an ex parte hearing. (Id.). Neither Sackett nor his assigned counsel attended that hearing. (Id. at 290–91). The court subsequently denied the illegal sentence motion, with a note that Sackett would have leave to litigate the issue in a post-conviction relief action. (Id. at 291). The court of appeals reversed the trial court’s denial of the motion and criticized the decision to hold an ex parte hearing on the issue. (Id.). The court reasoned that the mere assignment of an agency did not satisfy a defendant’s constitutional right to counsel. (Id.). Because no staff attorney formally met with Sackett, reviewed the case, or attended the ex parte hearing, the appointment of counsel in this case amounted to formal rather than actual representation. (Id. at 292). Vacating and remanding, the court of appeals concluded that the trial court had deprived Sackett of his right to counsel, holding that the mere assignment of a public defense agency does not satisfy a defendant’s right to counsel. (Id.).