Moreno v. Alaska

Defendants in two criminal cases failed to object to errors at trial: in "Moreno v. Alaska," the admission of improper testimony regarding Jorge Moreno's exercise of his right to be free from compelled self-incrimination; in "Hicks v. Alaska," the lack of a jury unanimity instruction when the prosecutor directed the jury that it could find Mary Hicks guilty of either of two episodes of allegedly driving under the influence of alcohol. Moreno and Hicks both appealed, and in each case, the appellate court held that the defendants failed to show that the error was not the result of counsel's strategic decision not to object. Moreno and Hicks filed petitions for hearing before the Supreme Court, arguing that the burden of proof should be on the State to show that their counsels' failures to object were the result of tactical decisions. They also contended that the court of appeals erroneously speculated on the purported tactical benefits they received due to their attorneys' lack of objections. Lastly, they each requested an evidentiary hearing to develop the record on this issue. The Supreme Court granted review to determine whether to apply an evidentiary presumption or to place a burden of proof on a party to establish that a defendant's lack of objection at trial was or was not the result of defense counsel's intelligent waiver or tactical decision not to object. The Court concluded, however, that Alaska case law compels neither result: defense counsel's tactical reason for failing to object, or counsel's intelligent waiver of an objection, should be plainly obvious from the record before foreclosing the reviewing court's consideration of the remaining plain error elements. The Court reversed the court of appeals' decisions on this issue. But it concluded that Moreno suffered no prejudice despite the error in his case, and affirmed the court of appeals' decision upholding Moreno's conviction on this alternate ground. Hicks's case was remanded to the court of appeals for further proceedings. View "Moreno v. Alaska" on Justia Law