Domestic violence laws in Alaska prohibit certain acts of physical violence between spouses, parent and child, and couples who have dated or engaged in a sexual relationship. Although Alaska does not punish domestic violence crimes as offenses separate and distinct from the underlying violent crime, it does authorize increased penalties for defendants who commit one of the specified violent acts against a household member.
Underlying Offenses & Protected Relationships
Alaska law defines domestic violence as one of the following crimes committed by one household member against another household member:
- crimes against the person, such as murder, manslaughter, assault, stalking, reckless endangerment, kidnapping, custodial interference, human trafficking, sexual assault, sexual offenses against children, robbery, extortion, and coercion
- criminal trespass
- arson or criminal burning
- terrorist threatening
- violating a protective order, and
- criminal mischief
Alaska law defines “household member” as follows:
- current and former spouses
- persons who live or have lived together
- persons who date or have dated
- persons currently or formerly in a sexual relationship
- persons closely related, whether by blood or adoption
- persons currently or formerly related by marriage
- persons who have a child together
- the minor children of any person who is in one of the above relationships
A defendant charged with a domestic violence crime may assert self-defense, arguing that the victim was the initial physical aggressor. A defendant may also argue that the prosecutor failed to prove that the underlying violent act occurred. Or, the defendant may contest the prosecution’s allegations that the defendant and victim shared a relationship that would qualify them as household members.
When one of the underlying crimes listed above is committed in a domestic violence setting, the sentence for the aggressor may be increased. Alaska law authorizes sentences above the normal range where the commission of a felony involves domestic violence. On the other hand, if one of the crimes noted above was committed in response to the victim’s act of domestic violence, the defendant may receive a lighter sentence.
When the defendant commits the domestic violence
Alaska punishes crimes involving domestic violence by authorizing increased penalties for convictions of the underlying crime, when the defendant is also the one who perpetrated the domestic violence. Numerous factors, if present in a case, allow a judge to impose a longer prison term than the standard maximum. For example, a judge may impose a prison sentence greater than the normal twenty-year maximum when the defendant commits assault against a household member and a child (who lives with the defendant, the victim, or at the residence where the offense occurred) is physically present or hears the offense being committed.
When the defendant is the recipient of the domestic violence
Conversely, if a defendant is convicted of homicide or assault (or the attempt to commit homicide or assault), and the defendant’s homicide or assault was in response to aggravated or repeated acts of domestic violence committed by the victim against the defendant, a judge may impose a prison sentence below the normal range for the defendant’s offense. For example, a defendant convicted of homicide for killing her husband may receive a shorter sentence than the standard twenty years in prison if she presents evidence that her homicide resulted from years of physical violence inflicted by her husband. In addition to possible incarceration and fines, a person convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence offense must complete a state-approved domestic violence treatment program.
Law Enforcement Duties
Alaska law requires law enforcement officers to perform certain duties when investigating domestic violence incidents. A peace officer must make an arrest where there is probable cause to believe that a person has committed domestic violence, violated a protective order, or violated a condition of bail. It is not necessary that the officer have an arrest warrant or even witness the crime, but the crime must have taken place within twelve hours preceding the arrest. They must also inform victims of the victim’s rights under the law, and tell them of any resources that are available to the victim.
An officer must also determine which individual is the principle physical aggressor where persons involved in a domestic violence incident accuse one another of initiating the physical violence. In attempting to determine which person is the principle physical aggressor, the law requires the officer to evaluate several factors, including any claims of self-defense. The officer also must consider the relative severity of physical injuries received by each person, any prior history of domestic violence, and the likelihood of the persons receiving injuries from domestic violence in the future. Where the officer is able to identify the principle aggressor, the law does not require that the officer arrest persons other than the principle aggressor who are involved in the domestic violence incident. If an officer investigating a domestic violence incident makes no arrests or arrests more than one person for the same incident, the law mandates that the officer describe in writing the reasons for doing so.
A victim of domestic violence can seek a protective order from a court. If the judge determines that the alleged aggressor committed domestic violence, the judge can order a wide array of relief, including requiring the respondent to not have any form of communication with the victim. The protective order can also award temporary child custody to the victim and require that the respondent move out of the victim’s residence (regardless of ownership), and not possess deadly weapons.
Contact a Lawyer
If you are facing domestic violence charges in Alaska, you should consult with a criminal defense attorney who is experienced in handling such cases. An experienced lawyer can evaluate the strength of the prosecution’s evidence against you, explore any possible defenses you might have, and explain your rights and options available to you. A lawyer may seek to have certain evidence thrown out, or even seek dismissal of your case. A lawyer may also negotiate a plea to reduced charges. A lawyer will protect your interests every step of the way, as well as represent you in court if your case goes to trial.