An Anchorage Superior Court judge is expected to issue a decision within a few months on requests to dismiss sexual abuse of a minor charges filed last year against Alaska’s former acting attorney general.
Clyde “Ed” Sniffen is accused of having sex with a 17-year-old girl he coached on an Anchorage high school mock trial team in 1991 when he was 27. Sniffen served as acting attorney general for roughly five months in 2020 to 2021 and resigned as the allegations were about to be made public in a news article published by the Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica.
Now an adult, Nikki White came forward with the abuse allegations after hearing that Sniffen was expected to permanently remain the state’s top prosecutor.
The dismissal requests filed by Sniffen’s attorney are based on the amount of time that’s passed since the alleged abuse occurred.
Superior Court Judge Erin Marston, who heard oral arguments during a hearing Tuesday, is expected to make a decision on the dismissal requests fairly soon, according to Sniffen’s attorney. Marston is retiring from the bench, according to Rebecca Koford, a spokeswoman for the court system.
The state’s independent special prosecutor charged Sniffen in May, more than a year after White’s accusations became public. He was indicted by an Anchorage grand jury in September on thee counts of sexual abuse of a minor by an authority figure.
Sniffen’s attorney Jeffrey Robinson has since filed two motions to dismiss the case: one focused on statute of limitation guidelines and the other on the contention that the long delay between the alleged abuse and the state charges violated Sniffen’s right to due process.
The lengthy delay in prosecution means that some evidence no longer exists, Robinson said. It also prohibits Sniffen from providing alibis because there are not exact dates or locations for some of the allegations, he said.
On Tuesday, Robinson and state independent special prosecutor Gregg Olson presented arguments on the dismissal motions in a short hearing before Marston, who will now take the motions under advisement before issuing an order with his decision.
Before the hearing started, Sniffen, once in line to be the state’s top attorney, chatted collegially in the mostly empty courtroom with his lawyer as well as Olson, the state prosecutor who’s now leading the investigation against him.
The case began nearly 30 years ago.
The Anchorage Police Department opened an investigation in 1994 when White disclosed the abuse to a counselor, a provider required to report potential criminal activity involving children to authorities. White has said she did not feel strong enough at the time to proceed with the case and declined to speak with an investigator then. Police did not continue the investigation without her cooperation.
During a hearing earlier this month, both attorneys questioned several people including White and investigators who handled the case in 1994 and in recent years.
Robinson noted that several records requested by the detective in the recent investigation no longer exist, including documents from the high school or the Anchorage Youth Court that could have established Sniffen’s roles in the programs, the determining factor for whether a crime has been committed. The age of consent in Alaska is generally 16, but law dictates that it is illegal for an adult to have sex with a 16- or 17-year-old whom they are teaching, counseling or coaching.
There’s no way to tell what records may have existed previously, Olson said, but the detective now working the case was being thorough in looking for the documents.
Robinson said that police “dropped the ball” by not following up on the case in the decades between the initial allegations and now.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Olson said it made sense for police to halt the investigation in 1994 because they did not have a first-hand account of what happened from the victim and therefore didn’t have enough probable cause to pursue charges.
The defense “is blaming the victim for her inability to come forward,” he said.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said the Office of Special Prosecutions charged Sniffen, but the case was actually charged by an independent special prosecutor who was appointed and contracted to handle the case. He is not employed by the Office of Special Prosecutions.