Jeff D. May


In Alvarado v. State, the Alaska Supreme Court declared that an impartial jury is a cross section of the community and that the community where the events at issue transpired must be represented in the jury. This decision spurred changes to jury selection procedures and the creation of Criminal Rule 18, an effort to ensure defendants from remote villages are judged by a jury representative of these rural areas. The Alaska Court of Appeals recently addressed an issue of first impression regarding the application of Criminal Rule 18. In Joseph v. State, the defendant was convicted of murdering his girlfriend in the tiny Native village of Rampart. His trial was conducted in Fairbanks by a jury selected from an area that does not include Rampart or any other similar Native village. Criminal Rule 18 allowed the defendant a limited time to transfer his trial to Nenana, which more closely resembles the characteristics of Rampart. However, the defendant was never informed of this right. His trial counsel believed trial location was a decision for the attorney and did not see a need to request the change. In a memorandum opinion that creates no binding precedent, the Court of Appeals agreed with this view and held it did not violate the defendant’s due process rights not to be informed of the opportunity to have his case heard at an alternative trial site. This Article challenges that view, arguing it fails to safeguard the spirit and purpose of the constitutional right to an impartial jury. To remote villagers in Bush Alaska whose customs, culture, and ways of life are vastly different than in larger cities within the state, the opportunity to be judged by those sharing similarities is of upmost importance. Consequently, decisions of trial venue, for purposes of Criminal Rule 18, should be knowingly made or waived by the defendant.