Coffman v. State

In Coffman v. State, 172 P.3d 804 (Alaska App. 2007), the Court was required to revisit and interpret the supreme court's decision in Wharton v. State, 590 P.2d 427, 431 (Alaska 1979). The Court concluded that Wharton stood for two fundamental propositions. First, we declared that the Wharton decision "rests on the concept ... that, even in the absence of authorizing legislation, the supreme court has the power to review any judicial decision made in a criminal case -- including the sentencing judge's exercise of sentencing discretion": Even though the Alaska statutes governing sentence appeals were originally thought to confer a special right of appeal (and to expand the supreme court's jurisdiction accordingly), a defendant's substantive right to seek appellate review of a sentence for alleged excessiveness, and the supreme court's authority to hear that claim, actually exist irrespective of these statutes.Coffman, 172 P.3d at 809. Second, the Court declared that, because the supreme court has the inherent power to review criminal sentences, even in the absence of legislation, Alaska's sentence appeal statutes "are in fact addressed solely to matters of procedure -- or, in the case of the jurisdictional provisions found in AS 22.07, the issue of the division of appellate jurisdiction between this Court and the supreme court." Id. at 809. The Court explained: The truth of the matter is that every defendant in Alaska has the right to seek appellate review of their sentence on the ground that it is excessive. The effect of our sentence appeal statutes is not to confer or withhold this right, but rather to define the manner in which the appellate review is invoked and conducted. Ibid.