CRIMINAL LAW / CRIMINAL PROCEDURE
Court of Appeals of Alaska (2022)
In Perez v. State, 521 P.3d 592 (Alaska Ct. App. 2022), the court of appeals held that a trial court
has an affirmative duty to act when it becomes clear that a criminal defendant has not been assigned
an attorney, but that a defendant may consent to a pause on his right to a speedy trial. (Id. at 603).
Perez was indicted on 83 counts of property crimes, and the trial court appointed the Alaska Public
Defender Agency (Agency) to represent him. (Id. at 596). While the Agency represented multiple
of the co–defendants, an attorney was not assigned to Perez for over five months, with the Agency
citing unidentified conflicts of interest. (Id. at 597). While Perez was not represented by an
attorney, he attended multiple pretrial conferences. (Id. at 596–97). In an exchange with the judge,
Perez appeared to consent to time being tolled on his case, a pause on the time limit for a speedy
trial created by Alaskan criminal procedure. (Id. at 597–98). Nearly six months after the initial
indictment, a contract attorney with the Officer of Public Advocacy entered an appearance for
Perez. (Id. at 597). The attorney filed a motion to dismiss Perez’s case, arguing that the court was
obligated at the first pretrial conference to directly address the Agency’s failure to assign an
attorney. (Id.). The motion argued that Perez was unrepresented, and thus could not consent to the
tolling of his case, violating his right to a speedy trial. (Id.). The trial court denied the motion, and
Perez petitioned for review. (Id. at 597–98). The court of appeals agreed with Perez that the trial
court had an affirmative duty to act when it became clear that Perez had no attorney assigned. (Id.
at 598). The court reasoned that the initial appointment of the Agency to Perez’s case did not
constitute assistance of counsel, and more was required of the trial court to satisfy Perez’s rights.
(Id. at 598–99). The court ruled that the trial court should have taken immediate action, which
might have included setting firm deadlines for an entry of appearance, or setting status hearings
where a supervisor from the Agency was required to appear. (Id. at 599). However, the court did
not agree with Perez that his case should be dismissed, reasoning that the record showed that Perez
was aware of his right to a speedy trial, and properly consented to the tolling of his case. (Id. at
602). Thus, while the lower court erred in failing to take affirmative action regarding Perez’s lack
of representation, the court of appeals nevertheless affirmed the denial of the motion to dismiss,
holding that a trial court has an affirmative duty to act when it becomes clear that a criminal
defendant has not been assigned an attorney, but that a defendant may consent to a pause on his
right to a speedy trial. (Id. at 603).