Cochran v. State

In Cochran v. State, 586 P.2d 175 (Alaska 1978) Cochran was convicted of one count of forgery and one count of uttering a check with insufficient funds. The trial court sentenced Cochran to a term of six years with three years suspended for the forgery count. The court imposed a consecutive five-year suspended imposition of sentence for the count of uttering a check with insufficient funds. (See Cochran, 586 P.2d at 175.) The supreme court held that the trial court's order suspending imposition of sentence could not be imposed consecutively but began when the trial court sentenced Cochran: The period of suspension and probationary term had to begin when the court's order was entered. Having elected not to impose a sentence at that time, on the one count, the court necessarily suspended the imposition thereof as of that date. (Id. at 176.) The supreme court concluded that the proper interpretation of the trial judge's sentence was that Cochran's suspended imposition of sentence on the charge of uttering a check with insufficient funds began from his sentencing and would end five years after he had served his six-year term of imprisonment on the forgery conviction. (d. at 176-77.) In Cochran, the court did order the defendant's sentence to be modified. The court pointed out that the maximum term for uttering a check with insufficient funds was ten years of imprisonment. Under AS 12.55.085(a), a court is authorized to suspend the imposition of sentence for a period of time that does not exceed the maximum term of sentence that may be imposed for the offense. The supreme court therefore concluded that Cochran's sentence of an eleven-year suspended imposition of sentence was illegal, and reduced it to fit within the ten-year limit. The judge declared that the defendant would be on probation for 5 years on the forgery charge, and that the defendant's SIS probation "was to run consecutive to the forgery sentence." (Id. at 176.) The problem with this sentence (as worded) is that, under Alaska law, SIS probation must begin on the day that sentence is imposed. The sentencing judge simply could not make the SIS probation consecutive to the forgery sentence, nor could the sentencing judge otherwise "cause that period of probation to begin several years in the future." Nevertheless, the supreme court concluded (from the judge's contemporaneous sentencing remarks) that the judge's unambiguous intention was to place the defendant on probation for eleven years following the defendant's release from prison. To implement the sentencing judge's intention (as nearly as possible), the supreme court ignored the fact that the judge had described Cochran's SIS probation as lasting 5 years; instead, the supreme court declared that the judge's sentencing remarks would be construed as imposing an SIS probation of 10 years (the maximum term of probation allowed for Cochran's offense). Cochran's sentence had to be construed in this fashion, the supreme court declared, because this construction of the sentence was the way to most nearly achieve the sentencing judge's intent.