Accomplice Liabilty

Questions Presented
1. Whether a person in Alaska can be charged as an accomplice to an unintentional crime, when Alaskan courts required that one must have the specific intent to promote or facilitate the offense?
2. Whether the mother was the legal cause of her children’s death, when she permitted the father to take the children in his car when he was drunk?
Statement of the Case
The appellant, Elaine Benis, was indicted in the County of Norchester, on one count of manslaughter, pursuant to A.S. ?11.41.120. (R. at 1.) She was also indicted for one count of accessory to manslaughter, pursuant to A.S. ?11.41.120 and A.S. ?11.16.110. (R. at 1). After the presentation of the prosecution’s case, the defense moved to dismiss on the grounds that the prosecution did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mrs. Benis was reckless. (R. at 9). This motion was denied. At the conclusion of its case, the defense moved for a directed verdict, stating that the prosecution failed to show that Mrs. Benis recklessly caused the death of her children. (R. at 12). This motion was denied and the judge informed the counselors that he would charge the jury in accordance with the state’s proposed charge. (R. at 13). The defense strongly objected and renewed its motion for a directed verdict, submitting that there was insufficient evidence to prove that Mrs. Benis was the cause of her children’s death, since Mr. Peterman’s actions clearly were the only cause of their death and that it is logically impossible for any jury to find someone guilty as an accomplice to an unintended crime. (R. at 13). The trial judge denied the motion. (R. at 13).
Mrs. Benis was convicted and appealed to the Court of Appeals of the State of Alaska. (R. at 15). At issue in the appeal was whether the trial court erred, as a matter of law, (1) in instructing the jury on the charge of accessory to manslaughter and (2) in denying Mrs. Benis’s post trial motion for a directed verdict because there was insufficient evidence to support a conviction as a principal. (R. at 16).
The Court of Appeals held that the trial court did not err in instructing the jury that one can be an accomplice to reckless manslaughter even though it is a not a specific intent crime. (R. at 17). The court based its decision on holdings from other jurisdictions and rejected the Alaskan doctrine that one cannot be an accomplice to a crime when he acts recklessly. (R. at 17). Furthermore, the court held that there was sufficient evidence to support a conviction of Mrs. Benis as principal because her act was the legal cause of death. (R. at 17).
Mrs. Benis now appeals to the Supreme Court of Alaska. This appeal is limited to the issue of whether being an accessory to manslaughter is a crime under Alaska law and whether there was sufficient evidence that Mrs. Benis’s act caused the death of her two daughters. (R. at 19). The defense appeals on the grounds that the law of Alaska does not permit an instruction that one can be an accomplice to an unintentional crime when they did not have the specific intent to promote or facilitate the offense and that Mrs. Benis’s act was not the proximate cause of her two children’s death.
On Sunday, October 10, 1999, Jay Peterman came to his wife’s house, Mrs. Benis, because he is allowed to see his children, pursuant to a temporary separation agreement. (R. at 16). Mrs. Benis testified that her husband’s eyes were red and that he appeared tipsy, “…but he drove up to the house, so I thought he was O.K.” (R. at 11). However, when the prosecution asked Mrs. Benis if she knew that Mr. Peterman was drunk at the time he picked up the girls, she emphatically replied “No”. (R. at 12). Furthermore, expert testimony from the Medical Examiner reveals that even though someone has a blood alcohol level of 0.14, it is not absolutely certain that the person appears intoxicated to the outside world. (R. at 7).
Mr. Peterman had a breath-analyzing device installed in his car because of past drunk driving incidents. (R. at 16). This device is designed to keep a drunken driver from starting a car.