Alvarado v. State

In Alvarado v. State, 486 P.2d 891 (Alaska 1971) the supreme court condemned the practice of taking a defendant from a small rural community, where his crime allegedly occurred, and moving him to a large city, where the jury did not represent a fair cross-section of the rural community in which the crime allegedly occurred. The Alaska Supreme Court interpreted this "fair cross-section" requirement to mean that, if a crime is committed in a village and the defendant is to be tried in a nearby urban area, the jury pool must include people who reside in villages. The supreme court based this holding on what it described as the "profound" differences of "occupation, economy, domestic relations, politics, language, religion, race, cultural heritage, and geography" that distinguish village life from life in urban areas. Id. at 899. The Alaska Supreme Court held that the defendant had a right to be tried by a jury that was representative of the place where the alleged crime occurred. The Alvarado decision is based upon the defendant's constitutional rights to be tried by an impartial jury and his right to due process of law. (Id. at 896-97, 903.) The supreme court recognized that it would be difficult and expensive to conduct trials in some of the remote areas of the state. But the supreme court concluded that the United States and Alaska Constitutions required this result: "It is of paramount importance that the benefits conferred by the Constitutions of the United States and Alaska be extended with an even hand to the people of our state. When a large segment of the population lives in towns and villages scattered throughout the regions of the state, we cannot afford to succumb to the temptation of convenience by allowing the machinery of justice to become inflexibly entrenched within the enclaves of our major cities. Instead we must tailor our system of justice to meet the needs of the people. It is our judicial system which must take the initiative to assure compliance with the mandates of the Constitution; we cannot simply neglect or ignore communities of individuals located in remote areas of the state. Justice must be made available to all of the people of Alaska. (Id. at 905-06.) In its holding in Alvarado, the supreme court emphasized the necessity of selecting juries that represented the community. The court emphasized that the jury is "a safeguard against the possibility of governmental tyranny and oppression . ... As an institution, the jury offers our citizens the opportunity to participate in the workings of our government, and serves to legitimize our system of justice in the eyes of both the public and the accused." The court pointed out that one of the factors precipitating the American revolution was the fact that the King of England had made a practice of transporting colonists to England for trial. (Id. at 902 n.28.) The supreme court recognized that "profound cultural differences exist between the Native villages and urban areas of Alaska." Because of the "enormous gulf which separates the mode of life of the typical Alaskan villager from the type of existence led by most residents of the larger cities of the state," the supreme court held that it was a constitutional violation for juries drawn solely from a larger city to decide the case of a defendant charged with committing a crime in a rural village. The court declared that the Alaska Constitution guarantees a criminal defendant the right to have a jury selected from a pool that represents "a fair cross section of the community in which the crime occurred." The supreme court held that Alvarado was not afforded an impartial jury because the jury selection practices in his trial did not provide a pool that reflected a fair cross-section of his community. Alvarado had significant ties to the community of Chignik. His case was tried in Anchorage where jurors were summoned from an area within fifteen miles of Anchorage. Alvarado showed that this practice had the effect of virtually excluding all residents of Native villages. The supreme court held that the practice ensured that the prospective panel would not adequately represent a fair cross section of the community where Alvarado committed the offense and, thus, was a violation of Alvarado's constitutional right to an impartial jury under Article 1, Section 11 of the Alaska Constitution. (Id. at 898-901.)