Court of Appeals of Alaska (2022)
In Zurlo v. State, 506 P.3d 777 (Alaska Ct. App. 2022), the Court of Appeals held that, when a prosecutor violates the duty of making a “reasonably complete and fair” presentation to a grand jury, the prosecutor then “subvert[s] the integrity” of that grand jury, so that a conviction from that grand jury’s indictment must be reversed. (Id. at 788). A worker’s employer would often enter the worker’s living space unannounced, intoxicated, and angry. (Id.). One night, the employer, drunk, entered the worker’s bedroom as he lay in bed with his girlfriend, began making threats, and reached behind himself as if grabbing a gun. (Id.). In response, the worker shot the employer dead. (Id.). The worker was arrested, waived his Miranda rights, and told one State Trooper that he knew the employer owned guns, was certain the employer had a gun in that instance, and that the employer had threatened to kill him. (Id. at 779–80). The worker’s girlfriend corroborated this story, adding that the employer had made previous threats and kept a handgun in his back waistband. (Id. at 780). However, while presenting to the grand jury, the prosecutor omitted information that could support the worker’s self-defense claim. (Id. at 780–81). Moreover, the prosecutor presented a different State Trooper’s testimony, under a hearsay exception, and that trooper inaccurately portrayed the worker’s statements. (Id. at 780–81). Although the trial court was “particularly disturbed” by the prosecutor’s choice to keep evidence of self-defense from the grand jury, it refused to throw out the indictment. (Id. at 781). A jury convicted the worker of second-degree murder. (Id.). Alaska’s Constitution requires that before bringing a prosecution, prosecutors must obtain a grand jury indictment. (Id. at 781–82). Thus, to ensure the grand jury can effectively check government abuses, prosecutors have an affirmative duty to present exculpatory evidence to the grand jury, which includes evidence that “tends, in and of itself, to negate the defendant’s guilt.” (Id. at 782–83). The prosecutor must guarantee that any hearsay evidence is accurate and not misleading. (Id. at 784). Here, however, the prosecutor phrased his questioning to the testifying trooper so that the grand jury would not hear exculpatory evidence, which the Court of Appeals called collusion against the defendant worker because the prosecutor intentionally presented “a highly misleading version of facts.” (Id. at 787). Under Alaska law, a conviction cannot stand if the underlying indictment is seriously flawed. (Id. at 788). Reversing the conviction, the Court of Appeals determined that the prosecutor violated his duty to make a “reasonably complete and fair” presentation to the grand jury, thereby “subvert[ing] the integrity” of the grand jury. (Id. at 788).