Marcelle McDannel

Whenever I pick a jury in a criminal case, one of the questions I ask prospective jurors is, “Do you think you should evaluate a police officer’s testimony the same as any other witness?” I’m looking for jurors who thinks it’s necessary to scrutinize a police officer’s testimony rather than accept it without question. Most people agree that officers make mistakes just like everyone else. But very few believe police officers would intentionally lie...

Marcelle McDannel

The people of Bethel who advocated for the firing of their district attorney had a valid point about how their fellow citizens have been treated by the state: lumped together into one class of “criminals” deserving of the maximum jail term possible. But they focused their anger on a target too low in the state hierarchy. The Bethel district attorney, like every district attorney in this state, has been laboring under a bad policy decision made at the upper levels of the Department of Law during the Parnell Administration....

Marcelle McDannel

Our state has yet again distinguished itself as a national leader in violent crime, but most of you reading this column will be happy to know that the risk of ending up a homicide victim is not shared evenly. If you are fortunate enough to have the resources, you can take steps to virtually eliminate your own chances: secure permanent housing in a quiet neighborhood; keep your vices at home; don’t conduct any kind of illegal business deals on the street; don’t stay in an abusive relationship...

Marcelle McDannel

Alaska has one of the most generous self-defense statutes in the country. According to our laws, you can kill someone who has threatened you with deadly force even if you could otherwise get away without further incident. There is no duty to retreat, not just at home but in any place you have a legal right to be. But if you’re not a police officer, do you know where you will end up if you kill someone in self-defense? On trial for murder...

Marcelle McDannel

Grand juries have gotten a bad reputation following the decisions of two different panels -- one in New York and one in Missouri -- not to bring charges against police officers who killed unarmed civilians. It’s an unenviable situation for the citizen members of these panels: they’ve been accused of racial bias and preferential treatment of police officers, but bound by the secrecy rules of the grand jury, have been unable to explain their decisions. Recently, however, one of the grand jurors who voted not to indict Ferguson Police Officer Michael Wilson announced he was suing the prosecutor for permission to discuss what happened during the presentation of that case...

Marcelle McDannel

I tend to dread holiday parties, especially those where I don’t know a lot of the guests. Not only are my efforts at small talk awkward, but as a criminal defense attorney, I find myself waiting for the question that inevitably follows the disclosure of my profession: “How can you defend ‘those’ people?” The phrasing may change a bit -- “How can you help criminals?” “How can you defend people you know are guilty?” -- but the gist is always the same: What part of your soul have you surrendered to do your job?...

Marcelle McDannel

Our state government has sent two very different messages to Alaska Natives. Just a few weeks ago, in an orchestrated bit of political theater, Gov. Parnell finally signed HB 216 into law at the 2014 convention for the Alaska Federation of Natives. That law finally designated 20 Native languages as official languages of the state of Alaska in addition to English.

But just a month earlier, a federal judge had to force the state to provide Yup’ik and Gwich'in translations of voting materials so that people whose primary language is not English would not be excluded from this critical right of citizenship. The state fought having to do this in a 9-day trial...

Marcelle McDannel

We learned last month that Alaska has been awarded yet another disgraceful distinction to add to our trophy case of human misery: No. 1 in male-on-female homicides. It can sit next to our first-place ranking in reported rapes, bestowed on us by the folks at the FBI who collect crime statistics.

But we all haven’t been equal partners in this dubious achievement...

Marcelle McDannel

Remember the disgraceful trial of our late, great Sen. Ted Stevens? In dismissing the public corruption case against Stevens, U.S. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan said of the conduct of the prosecutors: "In nearly 25 years on the bench, I have never seen anything approaching the mishandling and misconduct I have seen in this case." As a result of prosecutorial antics like hiding exculpatory evidence, Stevens ended his distinguished career branded a “defendant.”...

Marcelle McDannel

The University of Alaska Board of Regents wants to change what it means to be a state employee – at least for one individual. The board decided to offer University of Alaska President Pat Gamble a $320,000 retention bonus, which is the equivalent of what he makes every year. That isn’t public service; it’s public enrichment -- a violation of the 'macaroni salad ethos' that every state employee accepts in exchange for the privilege to do meaningful work. What do I mean by that? Let me explain.

Having spent years in public service myself, I’ve learned three important lessons about what that means:

1. All major holidays and events will be celebrated with an office potluck during lunch hours.

2. It’s not supposed to make people rich...

Marcelle McDannel

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