Court of Appeals of Alaska (2022)
In Whisenhunt v. State, 504 P.3d 268 (Alaska Ct. App. 2022), the court of appeals held that its standard for remanding a case to a trial court to reconsider a criminal defendant’s motion for a new trial was not a new rule. (Id. at 270). At trial, Whisenhunt was convicted of evidence tampering and second-degree murder. (Id.). The trial court also denied Whisenhunt’s motion for a new trial. (Id. at 275). On appeal, the court of appeals affirmed Whisenhunt’s conviction. (Id. at 270). The court of appeals also partially remanded the case, instructing the trial court to reconsider and/or clarify its ruling denying Whisenhunt’s motion for a new trial. (Id.). In its remand holding, the court relied on precedent holding that Alaska’s trial judges have the authority to grant new trials given “the weight of the evidence” to prevent any miscarriage of justice. (Id.). Specifically, the court relied on a recent case which held that trial courts should only grant new trials when the court is concerned that the defendant is innocent after independently weighing the evidence. (Id. at 271). The State argued that the standard in the recent case stood for a wholly new rule, and therefore could not be applied retroactively to Whisenhunt’s case. (Id. at 270). The appellate court recognized that older precedent had not clearly articulated the standard, causing some confusion. (Id. at 271). However, the recent case merely clarified the rule, it did not establish a new rule. (Id. at 274). Moreover, even if the recent case did establish a new rule, the court asserted that it satisfied the necessary factors for retroactive application of a new rule. (Id. at 276). In conclusion, the court of appeals affirmed its earlier decision remanding the case back to the trial court to reconsider and/or clarify its ruling on the defendant’s motion for a new trial. (Id.).