A recent change in Alaska’s plea deal policy might mean offenders of serious sexual assault and domestic violence crimes receive less leniency, but it could also translate to more dismissals of cases involving less severe crimes, said Haines Borough interim police chief Simon Ford.
The Alaska Department of Law said in late July it would no longer negotiate plea deals for lesser sentences for people charged with domestic violence and serious crimes.
Ford said regional district attorney James Scott told him to expect more domestic violence trials in Haines. Ford attributed the recent policy change to public discontent with light sentences and Gov. Sean Parnell’s “Choose Respect” campaign.
While Ford personally likes the change, he acknowledged it will have some negative consequences. “The problem is it is going to back things up huge because it takes a lot of time and a lot of money to put on a trial and go through all that and prepare everything.”
The expense and time will likely lead to dismissals of less egregious domestic violence charges, Ford said.
“Instead of trying to get that plea bargain, they will be saying, ‘You know what, nobody got hurt. This is a he-said, she-said thing. It’s going to be hard to prove in court. I don’t know if I can get a conviction in this case. I’m just going to drop it,’” Ford said.
For example, a Haines man charged with fourth-degree assault on Aug. 25 had his charge dropped by prosecutors Sept. 12. The assault involved little more than yelling and the man grabbing a woman’s wrist, Ford said.
Ford said the policy change will sharpen the department’s evidence collection skills and other abilities, as attorneys will demand high-caliber evidence to secure convictions. “We’re really going to have to have good evidence collection, good written reports, good interviews. We’re going to have to send really good stuff to the DA,” he said.
District attorney Scott and assistant district attorney Williams were out of the office all week.