Restricting Ability to Pursue Petitions for Post Conviction Relief

Society has a substantial interest in making sure that criminal litigation eventually reaches an end. All persons involved in the litigation -- defendants, victims, families and friends, investigative agencies, as well as the public at large have a right to expect that criminal cases will be finally resolved at some point. If prisoners are allowed to assert claims long after their trials, society runs the risk that re-trials may be ordered years after the event, when witnesses may no longer be available or their memories of the pertinent occurrences have been lost or diminished. In addition, piecemeal litigation of successive and often fruitless post-conviction claims poses a significant cost to the courts and the other components of the criminal justice system. As our supreme court recognized in Merrill v. State, finality may be a crucial element in the effectiveness of the criminal law. a procedural system which permits an endless repetition of inquiry into facts and law in a vain search for ultimate certitude implies a lack of confidence about the possibilities of administering justice that cannot but war with the effectiveness of the law's underlying substantive commands. Furthermore, ... an endless reopening of convictions, with its continuing underlying implication that perhaps the defendant can escape from corrective sanctions after all, is potentially inconsistent with the aim of rehabilitating offenders. 457 P.2d 231, 236 (Alaska 1969). Quoting Paul M. Bator, Finality in Criminal Law and Federal Habeas Corpus for State Prisoners, 76 Harvard Law Review 441, 451-52 (1963). For these reasons, the Alaska Supreme Court restricted a defendant's ability to pursue successive petitions for post-conviction relief. This restriction took the form of a rule requiring joinder of all of a defendant's post-conviction claims in a single litigation. This compulsory joinder rule was originally enacted in 1968 as Criminal Rule 35(i); it was later recodified as Criminal Rule 35.1(h). The first version of the restriction, Criminal Rule 35(i), was enacted in 1968. See Merrill, 457 P.2d at 237-38. Twenty years later, in 1987, the supreme court recodified the rules governing post-conviction relief, placing them in a separate Criminal Rule 35.1. the restriction on successive petitions (which remained substantively the same) was renumbered as Rule 35.1(h). See Supreme Court Order No. 822, effective August 1, 1987. Under this rule, defendants who pursued post-conviction relief were required to present all of their claims in one combined litigation. All of the petitioner's claims for post-conviction relief had to be "raised in the petitioner's original, supplemental, or amended application". Once a defendant's first petition for post-conviction relief was adjudicated, any past or potential post-conviction claim became res judicata. That is, the defendant was thereafter barred from seeking post-conviction relief on the basis of (a) any claim already decided against the defendant and (b) any claim that could have been raised in the first petition. to pursue a second petition for post-conviction relief, the defendant had to establish good reason for failing to raise their post-conviction claim in the prior petition. Both former Criminal Rule 35(i) and former Criminal Rule 35.1(h) were worded identically: Waiver of or Failure to Assert Claims. All grounds for relief available to an applicant under this rule must be raised in his original, supplemental, or amended application. Any ground finally adjudicated or not so raised, or knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently waived in the proceeding that resulted in the conviction or sentence, or in any other proceeding the applicant has taken to secure relief, may not be the basis for a subsequent application, unless the court finds a ground for relief asserted which for sufficient reason was not asserted or was inadequately raised in the original, supplemental, or amended application. For instance, in Merrill, the defendant filed a multi-claim petition for post- conviction relief. After extensive litigation, the superior court denied the petition. One month later, Merrill filed another petition, this one asserting that his trial jury had been selected in a discriminatory fashion. The superior court denied this second petition without holding a hearing to investigate Merrill's allegation. on appeal, the supreme court ruled that the superior court had acted properly: this second petition was subject to summary dismissal because Merrill did not offer a valid reason for failing to raise the jury claim in his previous petition. The law on this point remained unchanged until 1995, when both the supreme court and the legislature revised the rules governing post-conviction relief.