Justin Schneider, for readers outside of Alaska, is a 34-year old Eagle River, Alaska man. He assaulted an Alaska Native woman. He picked her up at a gas station in Midtown Anchorage, He told he’d drive her to her boyfriend’s house, Instead, he drove her to a secluded area, attacked her, choked her until she was unconscious, and masturbated on her. He threatened her with death.
Schneider was identified, arrested and charged with kidnapping, sexual assault and physical assault. Under a change of plea deal, he plead to the physical assault count. A Class B Felony. Superior Court Judge Michael Corey did not impose prison time. He was given credit for time served under “house arrest” and placed on parole for a year.
The charges and the sentence imposed seem shockingly mild for the severity of the crimes. There is considerable fury. The Alaska Department of Law responded with a letter that is defensive and evasive. But basically, the prosecutors say the deal was made for three reasons:
- It wasn’t kidnapping because they couldn’t prove Schneider transported the victim where he did over her objections. Second degree assault was the best they could prove.
- It was going to be a tough case to prove, because the victim was a street person, with no fixed address, who could not be relied upon to appear at trial.
- Alaska law’s definition of “sexual assault” doesn’t include Schneider’s conduct.
None of the three excuses work for WC. Nor do they explain the laughably brief sentence or the Judge’s acceptance of the deal if it included skating on time in prison. WC will look at each of the State’s three excuses, but first, let’s do a thought experiment.
Suppose the victim was a white teenage girl, and the perp was an Alaska Native male. Suppose the Alaska Native male had choked a high school cheerleader unconscious and then jerked off on her helpless body. Do you think Superior Court Judge Michael Corey would have given the perp no prison time? This is just a thought experiment, mind you. But think about it while we examine the Department of Law’s three excuses for indulging in what sure looks like White Privilege.
It was first degree assault. Alaska has three levels of assault. Schneider plead to Assault in the Second Degree, a Class B felony. But he committed Assault in the First Degree, a more serious crime, a Class A Felony. AS 11.41.200 defines Assault in the First Degree:
(a) A person commits the crime of assault in the first degree if
(1) that person recklessly causes serious physical injury to another by means of a dangerous instrument;
(2) with intent to cause serious physical injury to another, the person causes serious physical injury to any person;
(3) the person knowingly engages in conduct that results in serious physical injury to another under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life; or
<(4) that person recklessly causes serious physical injury to another by repeated assaults using a dangerous instrument, even if each assault individually does not cause serious physical injury.
(b) Assault in the first degree is a class A felony.
So what is “serious physical injury”? That’s defined at AS 11.81.900(56):
(56) “serious physical injury” means
(A) physical injury caused by an act performed under circumstances that create a substantial risk of death; or
(B) physical injury that causes serious and protracted disfigurement, protracted impairment of health, protracted loss or impairment of the function of a body member or organ, or that unlawfully terminates a pregnancy;
Choking – strangulation – pretty clearly carries a “substantial risk of death.” And being made unconscious against your will is certainly a physical injury. There was almost certainly physical injury to the victim’s throat by the strangulation. So why the Class B 2nd Degree instead? The Department of Law doesn’t say. But a Class A Felony gets you five to eight years for a first offense.
The victim was hard to find. WC makes no apology here: blaming the victim is never right. The State of Alaska can find people. It’s their job. Give the victim a cell phone. Heck, give her an apartment. Put her in contact with a social worker. Street people are a challenge, but not an excuse. At one level, you are blaming the victim for being homeless, or being mentally ill, or being an addict. None of those reasons make any sense.
Schneider is dangerous to society. His psychopathic behavior is a menace to more than this victim. Should he get off lightly – really with no punishment at all – because the victim is a “street person”? Is the State of Alaska declaring open season on street people because they can be “hard to find”? The State’s second excuse is exceptionally lame.
Jerking off on someone isn’t a sex crime. Apparently not. At least not under current Alaska law. The Legislature’s imagination failed it when was defining kinds of perversion. Governor Walker has promised a bill to define “sexual contact” to include jerking off on someone. But Schneider did commit Indecent Exposure in the Second Degree, a Class B Misdemeanor. So the Department of Law gets a pass on dismissing the Sexual Assault charge. And the Legislature gets a wrist slap.
But these were the reasons given for Schneider getting a sweet deal. No explanation of why there wasn’t a First Degree Assault charge prosecuted. No explanation of why the victim was to blame.
And more importantly, no explanation of why Schneider’s sentence was at the low-end of the permissible range. Here’s the second question: why didn’t Judge Corey reject the plea bargain? He wasn’t required to accept it. He could have said, “This defendant choked a woman into unconsciousness and then committed a gross violation of her privacy. He’s a pervert and a danger to society. I’m not going to accept a sentence that let’s him walk.”
But Judge Corey didn’t say that. Instead, the Anchorage Daily News reports, he said, “Mr. Schneider’s going to be a member of our community,” the judge said. “And he will not be in jail for the rest of his life, even if [he] had been convicted on all of the counts for which he was charged.”
Both the Alaska Constitution and Alaska law speak to the purpose of criminal sentences. The law says, at AS 12.55.005:
In imposing sentence, the court shall consider
- (1) the seriousness of the defendant’s present offense in relation to other offenses;
(2) the prior criminal history of the defendant and the likelihood of rehabilitation;
(3) the need to confine the defendant to prevent further harm to the public;
(4) the circumstances of the offense and the extent to which the offense harmed the victim or endangered the public safety or order;
- (5) the effect of the sentence to be imposed in deterring the defendant or other members of society from future criminal conduct;
- (6) the effect of the sentence to be imposed as a community condemnation of the criminal act and as a reaffirmation of societal norms; and
- (7) the restoration of the victim and the community.
Judge Corey appears to have seized on the seventh and last factor and ignored the others. For that, a thoughtful voter will need to decide whether or not to vote to retain Judge Corey as a Superior Court Judge when he stands for election this coming November. The Alaska Judicial Council has recommended Judge Corey be retained, but that was before the events of State v. Schneider.
Which takes us back to that awkward hypothetical question, that thought experiment WC suggested.
WC suggests the only reason Schneider skated on this was he’s white. Alaska has a pretty serious “sentencing disparity” problem. Judge Corey and the Anchorage DA just made it a little worse.
But that’s the polite phrase. The other name for it is white privilege.