A committee substitute for Senate Bill 12, offered by Sen. Peter Micciche (R-Soldotna) and aimed at closing legal loopholes that allowed convicted felon Justin Schneider to avoid jail time, passed the Senate Judiciary Committee during a Monday afternoon hearing and now moves on to Finance.
“Senate Bill 12 eliminates loopholes in Alaska law that have contributed to the inability to hold perpetrators of sexual assault adequately accountable for their actions,” Micciche wrote in his sponsor statement. “The result of Justin Schneider walking free garnered national attention as Alaskans stood by in disbelief that such a free pass could occur after Justin Schneider brutally strangled a woman to the point of unconsciousness and then ejaculated on her. The plea deal decision also resulted in the unprecedented removal of a judge [Michael Corey] for decisions made in the case.”
Schneider’s name is inked on the back of the eyelids of many Alaskans for good reason. In the summer of 2017, he picked up a woman while she was hitchhiking in Spenard, en route to east Anchorage. Instead of her intended destination, Schneider took her to a construction site at 36th and Wisconsin, where she attempted to flee. He tackled her, then strangled her until she lost consciousness. She awoke to him zipping up his pants and handing her a tissue to mop up the semen he had deposited on her person.
Though Schneider was indicted on four accounts, including kidnapping and assault (the former could have put him away for anywhere between five and 99 years), he struck a plea bargain with the State. He plead guilty to second-degree assault and faced a maximum of two years. One year was suspended and the other was credited for time served under house arrest with electronic monitoring.
Basically, he walked.
“Under Alaska law it would not have been deemed a sex offense,” John Skidmore, Director of the Criminal Division for the Alaska Department of Law, told me in a phone interview last year. “Because he has no prior criminal history, he’s not required to register as a sex offender because it’s not deemed a sex offense. He could not be ordered by the court to attend sex offender treatment. He couldn’t have had any of the other conditions that are associated with sex offender treatment.”
In response, then-Gov. Bill Walker (I-Alaska) quickly announced he would be proposing fixes to the loopholes that paved the way for Schneider to skirt jail time. He followed up with a narrow proposal making “unwanted contact with semen” a sex offense with a first-time penalty of between two and twelve years and the required offenders to register as sex offenders.
Governor Michael J. Dunleavy (R-Alaska) announced several additional bills targeting the “Schneider loopholes” in January. Senate Bill 35 is designed to address sex offenses; eliminating marriage as a defense in sexual assault cases, requiring individuals convicted of sexual felonies in other states to register as such in Alaska, and bolstering laws targeting solicitation of minors.
That bill has already passed through Senate Finance and is currently before the Judiciary Committee, which is working on a rewrite. Senate Bill 34 looks to make it more difficult for good behavior to be used as a tool to achieve reduced sentences. SB34 has already cleared both the Senate’s State Affairs and Finance committees and is now also before Judiciary. Committee Chair Shelley Hughes (R-Palmer) said it was her intention to move that bill during its next hearing date, scheduled for Monday, March 11.
Micciche’s SB12, in alignment with Walker’s intentions, seeks to classify unwanted contact with semen as a sex crime and require those convicted of the offense to register as a sex offender. It would also define the act of strangulation leading to unconsciousness as assault in the first degree, carrying a sentence between five and 20 years, and would eliminate accepting credit earned under electronic monitoring for sexual assault convictions as time served. A committee substitute of the bill, adopted by the committee on Monday, added a recommendation by ousted Schneider judge, Michael Corey, requiring victim consultation for plea agreements when the defendant is charged with a sex crime.
Had Schneider’s victim been consulted, she may have recommended the judge reject the plea deal. That communication did not occur.
“To be frank, this amendment came about from Judge Corey,” Micciche told his colleagues Monday afternoon. “It is not the judge’s role to push the prosecutors to hopefully have a greater level of input from the victim. But, in this particular case, it may have resulted in someone willing to step forward and they would have had a more substantial case. And if they would have had a more substantial case, Mr. Schneider would be in prison right now paying a price for his crimes.”
While stopping short of forcing a victim to participate, he said, “We’re going to push for prosecutors to make more of an effort and record that interaction in that attempt to get a victim to engage.”
“This is one case where we have really caught all the loopholes in the Justin Schneider case, which is what this bill is about,” Micciche summarized. “The public was appalled. As a father of four daughters, with a wife, and sisters, and female friends, I was appalled.”
His colleagues agreed.
The committee substitute for SB12 was voted unanimously out of committee. It now heads to Senate Finance, chaired by senators Bert Stedman (R-Sitka) and Natasha von Imhof (R-Anchorage). No public hearing date has been announced.
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