Cook v. State

In Cook v. State, 36 P.3d 710 (Alaska App. 2001), the defendant challenged the sentencing court's findings with regard to aggravating factors. But the sole legal significance of those aggravating factors in Cook's case was that the aggravators authorized the sentencing judge to impose a sentence exceeding the normal ceiling for first felony offenders under AS 12.55.125(k) -- an authority that the sentencing judge chose not to exercise. The Court held that, under such circumstances, any challenge to the judge's findings regarding the aggravating factors was moot. The Court ruled that a trial judge can present evidence at trial under Alaska Rule of Evidence 614, as long as the judge does so impartially. (Id. at 724-25.) A trial judge must be careful to avoid taking actions that the jury would reasonably construe as partisanship. ... But this does not prohibit a judge from taking a role in the presentation of evidence at trial. Indeed, Evidence Rule 614 explicitly recognizes trial judges' authority to "call witnesses on their own motion" and to "examine any witness" called by the parties. The commentary to Rule 614 declares that "the court is not entirely a prisoner of the parties' approach to the case"; rather, "it is proper for the court to ask questions of witnesses in order to clear up confusion created by the parties", although a judge's questioning "should be ... guarded so as not to constitute an implied comment" on the merits of the case. Id.