Allen v. State

In Allen v. State, 51 P.3d 949 (Alaska App. 2002), the Court considered whether the trial court abused its discretion when it denied a murder defendant's motion for a mistrial after two witnesses testified, in violation of a protective order, about the defendant's being in jail. 51 P.3d at 953-54. The witnesses volunteered the challenged testimony; the witnesses were not directly responding to the questions put to them. Id. The Court concluded that, because the witnesses' references to Allen's incarceration were non-specific references to Allen's being incarcerated at some prior time for an unknown reason, a cautionary instruction would have been sufficient to cure any prejudice. Id. at 955. And, because no such instruction was requested, this Court ruled that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it denied the motion for a mistrial. Id. The Court pointed out that parties often framed their arguments in terms of statutory aggravating and mitigating factors. While the Court found this practice useful, the Court specifically noted that, in a sentencing for second-degree murder, a judge could rely on any sound reason to justify a sentence. The Court generally do not review whether the sentencing court properly found aggravating or mitigating factors in imposing a sentence for murder in the second degree. This is because the aggravating factors and mitigating factors are not controlling in sentences for second-degree murder as they are when presumptive sentencing applies. A sentence for second-degree murder is governed by traditional sentencing criteria.