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15 Alaska Just. F. 1 (1998-1999)

handle is hein.journals/aljufor15 and id is 1 raw text is: ALASKA JUSTICE FORUM
A Publication of the                                                     Alaska Justice
Justice Center                                                      Statistical Analysis Unit
Spring 1998               UNIVERSITY OF ALASKA ANCHORAGE                Vol. 15, No. 1

Criminal Defense in Rural Alaska

Rachel King
While Alaska Natives are only 16 per
cent of the overall population of the state
and only 12 per cent of the adult population,
Alaska Department of Corrections statistics
indicate that approximately 34 per cent of
the current population in Alaska prisons is
Alaska Native.
This article focuses on several structural
aspects of the criminal justice system in rural
Alaska which may contribute to this
overrepresentation of Alaska Natives in the
state's prisons. While some of the problems
identified can involve non-Natives as well
as Natives, this discussion focuses primarily
on the situation of rural Alaska Natives.
In writing the article, I have drawn upon
my work as an assistant public defender and
upon additional research. From 1991 to
1994, I represented indigent clients in the
jurisdictions of Ketchikan, Kodiak and
Kotzebue. Each of these areas is populated
by different Alaska Native groups: Tlingit,
Haida and Tsimshian Indians in Ketchikan;
Alutiiq in Kodiak; and Inupiat in Kotzebue.
During my three years of work, I kept a
detailed journal of my experiences in these
communities. Quotations from this journal
are presented in italics.
Attorney-Client Relationship
Vast distances separate clients in rural
Alaska and the few attorneys available to
represent them. In more remote parts of the
state, transportation and communication sys-
tems resemble those in developing countries;
* A examination of the case histories of
Alaska Native, African American, and white
youth with multiple referrals to the juvenile
justice system (page 2).
* Current Justice Center research projects
(page 8).

power outages, poor          Figure 1. h
equipment and bad   BARANOF N
weather often inter-   /I   tLabouche
fere with communi-      1Bay
Southeast Alaska
I served three is-
lands in Southeast
Alaska while work-
ing  out   of the       Pacific
Ketchikan office-       Ocean
Revillagigedo Island,
where Ketchikan is
located; Prince of
Wales Island; and
Annette    Island,
where Metlakatla is
located. Travel be-     Area of map
tween islands was by
ferry, plane or charter boat. Once a month I
caught a float plane, or put my car on the
ferry, and traveled to Craig, which is the
court seat for Prince of Wales Island. Un-
less they traveled to see me, this monthly
visit was the only chance I had to meet with
clients in person. The extent of my caseload
made more frequent travel impractical.
The history of my first jury trial
exemplifies some of the problems of
representing clients in Southeast Alaska.
The client lived in Whale Pass on Prince of
Wales Island. The only telephone in Whale
Pass was at the general store-a place of
little privacy. Pretrial communication with
my client was limited to writing and the one
visit which she made to Ketchikan. To
investigate the case before trial, I traveled
by ferry from Ketchikan to Prince of Wales
Island, a journey of several hours. I left
Saturday morning; trial was scheduled for
Tuesday. On Prince of Wales Island, I drove
one and a half hours from a paved road to a
logging road. From the end of the pavement
to Whale Pass, a distance of about 125 miles,
the drive took nearly four hours. I arrived
in Whale Pass around 8:00 PM, about twelve
hours after boarding the ferry.

Because Whale Pass had no public
accommodations, I slept on the floor of the
laundromat, which was actually the back
room of a store selling convenience items
like cigarettes, coke, potato chips and frozen
burritos. The store owner carried me in his
boat from where the road ended to my
client's home at the end of the point. Her
log cabin lacked a telephone as well as
indoor plumbing and electricity.
She was charged with theft and criminal
trespass; it was alleged that she had taken
some gasoline from her neighbor. To
prepare the defense, I needed to examine the
property boundaries between her cabin and
the neighbor's property and to question the
townspeople about the character of the
complaining witness. My investigation
helped me to impeach the witness during
cross-examination. The jury acquitted my
client, but without the trip to Whale Pass,
the result might have been otherwise.
While not all villages on Prince of Wales
Island are as remote as Whale Pass, it is
common for residents, both there and on
Annette Island, to lack telephones. If clients
Please see Criminal Defense, page 5

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