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Gou-Leonhardt v. State (4/11/2014) ap-2415

Gou-Leonhardt v. State (4/11/2014) ap-2415


         The text of this opinion can be corrected before the opinion is published in the  

         Pacific Reporter.  Readers are encouraged to bring typographical or other formal  

         errors to the attention of the Clerk of the Appellate Courts:   

                                  303 K Street, Anchorage, Alaska  99501

                                            Fax:  (907) 264-0878

                           E-mail:  corrections @



                                                                  Court of Appeals No. A-11549  

                                   Appellant,                    Trial Court No. 4FA-11-1153 CR  

                          v.                                                 O P I N I O N  


                                   Appellee.                        No.  2415 - April 11, 2014  

                     peal  from  the  Superior  Court,  Fourth  Judicial  District,  


                  Fairbanks, Patrick S. Hammers, Judge.  

                 Appearances: William R. Satterberg Jr., Law Offices of William  


                  R.   Satterberg,  Jr.,  Fairbanks,  for  the  Appellant.    Risa  C.  

                  Leonard, Assistant District Attorney, Fairbanks, and Michael C.  


                  Geraghty, Attorney General, Juneau, for the Appellee.  

                  Before:  Mannheimer, Chief Judge, Allard, Judge, and Hanley,  


                  District Court Judge. *  


                  Judge ALLARD.  

    *    Sitting  by  assignment  made  pursuant  to  article  IV,  section  16  of  the  Alaska  

Constitution and Administrative Rule 24(d).  

----------------------- Page 2-----------------------

                      In 2011, Christian Gou-Leonhardt pleaded guilty to felony driving under     

the influence1                                                                 

                        pursuant to a plea agreement that granted him admission to the Fairbanks  

Wellness  Court.    The  plea  agreement  specified  that  if  Gou-Leonhardt  successfully  

completed  the  wellness  court  program,  he  would  receive  a  sentence  of  24  months'  


imprisonment with all 24 months suspended, and 3 years of unsupervised probation.  

                      After Gou-Leonhardt successfully completed the wellness court program,  

he filed a motion asking the superior court to deviate from this plea agreement and grant  


him a suspended imposition of sentence so he could have his conviction set aside if he  


successfully completed probation.                                                                           

                                                           Gou-Leonhardt asserted that AS 28.35.028(b) gave  


the court the authority to unilaterally alter the plea agreement and impose a suspended  

imposition of sentence "notwithstanding ... any other provision of law."  

                      The superior court disagreed with this expansive view of its authority and  

sentenced Gou-Leonhardt according to the terms of his plea agreement.  Gou-Leonhardt  


now appeals that decision.  For the reasons discussed below, we affirm the judgment of  


the superior court.  

           Why we conclude the superior court was bound by the terms of the plea  


                      The Alaska Legislature has authorized a system of wellness courts, a jail  


diversion program for substance abusers that seeks to promote their abstinence and  

      1    AS 28.35.030(a)(1), (n).  

      2    See AS 12.55.085.  

                                                                     -2-                                                                   2415  

----------------------- Page 3-----------------------

recovery by offering them intensive treatment and community supervision in lieu of                                                   



                           The statutory framework for wellness courts is found in AS 28.35.028.  


                      Under this statute, both the prosecutor and the defendant must consent to  

a  defendant's  participation  in  the  program.4  

                                                                               If  the  parties  agree  to  the  defendant's  


participation, and if the defendant is accepted for admission into the program, the statute  


then requires the defendant to enter a plea of guilty or no contest and directs the court "to  


enter a judgment of conviction for the offense or offenses for which the defendant has  




                      Although the statute allows a defendant to plead guilty or no contest with  

no pre-conditions, the statute also permits the defendant and the State "to enter into a  


plea agreement to determine the offense or offenses to which the defendant is required  


to plead."                                                                        

                    The statute declares that if the court accepts the plea agreement, "the court  


shall enforce the terms of the agreement."   


                      On  its  face,  this  provision  of  the  statute  would  seem  to  resolve  Gou- 

Leonhardt's  appeal  against  him.    Gou-Leonhardt's  plea  agreement  with  the  State  

specified  the  particular  sentence  he  would  receive  if  he  successfully  completed  the  


Fairbanks Wellness Court program (as well as the sentence he would receive if he did  

not). Because AS 28.35.028(b) requires the court to "enforce the terms of the [plea]  

      3    For a description of the Fairbanks Wellness Court program, see  Alaska Court System,  

Fairbanks Wellness Court, (last visited Feb. 24,  


      4    AS 28.35.028(a).  

      5    AS 28.35.028(b).  

      6    Id.

      7    Id.

                                                                      -3-                                                                2415

----------------------- Page 4-----------------------

agreement," the court seemingly had no discretion to unilaterally deviate from the terms   


of the plea agreement.   


                    Gou-Leonhardt argues that this interpretation of AS 28.35.028(b) ignores  

another  clause  of  the  statute  -  a  clause  that  is  found  several  sentences  later  in  the  

statutory  text.  We have italicized the particular language Gou-Leonhardt relies on:  


                    [N]otwithstanding   Rule   35,   Alaska   Rules   of   Criminal  

                    Procedure, and any other provision of law, the court, at any  


                    time after the period when a reduction of sentence is normally  


                    available, may consider and reduce the defendant's sentence  


                    based  on  the  defendant's  compliance  with  the  treatment  


                    According to Gou-Leonhardt, this provision of the statute gives wellness  


court  judges  the  authority  to  ignore  "any  other  provision  of  law"  -  including  the  


provisions of law governing the enforcement of plea agreements - when sentencing a  


defendant who has successfully completed the wellness court program.  In other words,  


Gou-Leonhardt  argues  that  wellness  court  judges  have  the  authority  to  impose  any  

sentence they want in this circumstance.  

                    When construing a statute, we look to three primary factors: "the language  


of the statute, the legislative history, and the legislative purpose behind the statute."9  


None of these factors supports Gou-Leonhardt's expansive reading of AS 28.35.028(b).  

     8    See  also  Alaska  R.  Crim.  P.  11(e)(2)  (requiring  the  court  to  impose  sentence  in  

accordance with plea agreement); cf. Wooley v. State                        , 221 P.3d 12, 20 (defendant may not  

seek "selective enforcement" of only favorable terms of a plea agreement).  

     9    Oels v. Anchorage Police Dep't Employees Ass'n, 279 P.3d 589, 595 (Alaska 2012)  

(quoting Shehata v. Salvation Army, 225 P.3d 1106, 1114 (Alaska 2010)).  

                                                              -4-                                                         2415

----------------------- Page 5-----------------------

                      Under the normal rules of statutory construction, the meaning of an unclear  

word or phrase in a statute may be gleaned from the words associated with it. 10  

                                                                                                                                Here, the  

clause in question is preceded by the phrase "notwithstanding Rule 35 [of the] Alaska  

Rules of Criminal Procedure," and is followed by the clause that authorizes the wellness  


court judge to reduce a defendant's sentence "[even] after the period when a reduction  


of   sentence   is   normally   available."      Thus,   when   read   in   context,   the   clause  


"notwithstanding Rule 35 [of the] Alaska Rules of Criminal Procedure, and any other  

provision  of  law"  speaks  only  to  a  wellness  court  judge's  authority  to  modify  a  

defendant's sentence outside the time limits otherwise imposed by Alaska law.11  


                      The legislative history directly supports this reading of the statute.  In an  

uncodified section of the 2006 session law that enacted the wellness court statute, the  


Legislature declared that AS 28.35.028(b) "has the effect of amending Rule 35, Alaska  

Rules of Criminal Procedure, by allowing a court to consider and reduce a criminal  

sentence outside of the time periods currently provided by that rule."12  


                      This  interpretation  is  also  supported  by  the  remaining  provisions  in  

AS 28.35.028(b), which grant wellness courts the authority to depart from otherwise  

mandatory minimum sentences and otherwise applicable presumptive sentence ranges  

      10   Dawson v. State , 264 P.3d 851, 858 (Alaska App. 2011) (citing 2A Norman J. Singer,           

Sutherland's Statutes and Statutory Construction  47.16, at 356-57 (7th ed. 2007)).  

      11   See, e.g., Alaska R. Crim. P. 35(b) (a sentencing court may only reduce a defendant's     

sentence within 180 days after the distribution of the judgment); Alaska R. Crim. P. 35(g)  

(even though a court normally has the authority to relax a procedural deadline under Alaska   

Criminal Rule 53, a sentencing court may only relax the 180-day deadline specified in Rule           

35(b) by ten days).  

      12   Ch. 56,  8, SLA 2006.  

                                                                     -5-                                                               2415

----------------------- Page 6-----------------------


under certain circumstances.                        These grants of authority would not be necessary if, as  

Gou-Leonhardt contends, the wellness court judge already had unlimited authority to  

reduce  the  defendant's  sentence  "notwithstanding  ...  any  provision  of  law"  to  the  



                      Finally, we note that Gou-Leonhardt's interpretation is inconsistent with  

the underlying policy goals of the wellness courts.  The Legislature created the system  

of  wellness  courts  because  it  recognized  that  this  form  of  intensive  treatment  and  


rehabilitation could serve the public interest and enhance public safety as well, if not  

better,  than  incarceration  or  other  more  traditional  forms  of  punishment. 15  

                                                                                                                                    If  we  

interpreted AS 28.35.028(b) as Gou-Leonhardt proposes - as granting the wellness  

court  judge  the  power  to  unilaterally  alter  a  plea  agreement  that  has  already  been  

accepted and executed - then the State could never be sure that it would receive the  

bargained-for  benefits  of  its  plea  agreement  with  wellness  court  defendants.    The  

      13	  AS 28.35.028(b) goes on to state:

           [W]hen reducing a sentence, the court (1) may not reduce the sentence below

           the mandatory minimum sentence for the offense unless the court finds that the

           defendant has successfully complied with and completed the treatment plan


           and that the treatment plan approximated the severity of the minimum period

           of imprisonment, and (2) may consider the defendant's compliance with the


           treatment plan as a mitigating factor allowing a reduction of a sentence under

           AS 12.55.155(a).

      14   These grants of authority are analogous to a court's authority under AS 12.55.025(c)   

and Nygren v. State , 658 P.2d 141, 146 (Alaska App. 1983),  to grant jail-time credit for time   

spent  under   court  order  in  a  rehabilitation  program  that  has  conditions  approximating  

incarceration, and to a court's authority under AS 12.55.155(a) to impose sentence below the  

presumptive range based on the existence of statutory mitigating factors.  



           See     Minutes         of    House        Judiciary        Committee,           House        Bill     441,     remarks         of  

Representative Tom Anderson, 2:45:17 p.m. (Feb. 24, 2006).  

                                                                     -6-	                                                              2415

----------------------- Page 7-----------------------

predictable result would be an increased reluctance on the part of the State to make such                              

plea agreements.  And because no defendant can enter a wellness court program without   

the State's consent, this would probably mean a substantial reduction in the number of     

defendants in wellness courts - a result clearly at odds with the Legislature's intent.  

                         Accordingly, we conclude that AS 28.35.028(b) requires the wellness court  

judge to enforce the terms of a plea agreement entered into by the State and a defendant.  


Here, the plea agreement between the State and Gou-Leonhardt specified the sentence  


that Gou-Leonhardt would receive if he successfully completed the Fairbanks Wellness  


Court program.  The superior court was required to impose this agreed-upon sentence,  


and  therefore  the  court  correctly  denied  Gou-Leonhardt's  request  for  a  suspended  

imposition of sentence.16  



                         The judgment of the superior court is AFFIRMED.  

       16    We do not reach the question of whether a suspended imposition of sentence would                                   

be available in the absence of a plea agreement specifying the defendant's sentence.  See  

AS 28.35.028(h)(2) ("sentence" or "sentencing" includes a suspended imposition of sentence  

as      authorized            under        AS       12.55.085).            But       see      AS       28.35.030(b)(2)(B),                   (n)(2)(B);  

AS 28.35.032(g)(2)(B), (p)(2)(B) (prohibiting suspended imposition of sentences for driving  

under the influence and refusal convictions).  

                                                                             -7-                                                                           2415  

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