Gov. Bill Walker pledged on Friday to change an Alaska law that didn’t count “unwanted contact with semen” a sex crime, allowing the perpetrator of a shocking midday assault to not only avoid prison but also avoid the label of sex offender.
Walker’s response comes amid public outrage after Anchorage man Jason Schneider escaped any jail time for strangling a woman into unconsciousness, kidnapping her and masturbating on her unconscious body. Schneider reached a plea deal with the state that, when combined with credit for time served on electronic monitoring, spared him any prison time.
“Every victim deserves justice. This sort of outcome makes it even more difficult for victims to come forward,” Walker said in a news release. “The punishment in this case is in no way matched with the severity of the crime. We must fix this problem immediately, and we will.”
The news release says Walker plans to release legislation to specifically address this element of the crime. Schneider was initially charged with multiple felonies, but none were for sex crimes. For the act of masturbating on the victim, Schneider was charged with misdemeanor harassment, which covers the unwanted “contact with human or animal blood, mucus, saliva, semen, urine, vomitus, or feces.”
The change to a sex offense, according to Walker’s announcement, would give a first-time offender a sentence of jail time between two and twelve years and require registration as a sex offender.
Not the only law under scrutiny
Another person familiar with criminal justice pointed out that the treatment of electronic monitoring in Alaska could give legislators another target to bite on for the upcoming session. Schneider’s plea deal did include one year of jail time, but he was able to successfully apply a year of electronic monitoring as day-to-day credit against the sentence.
The concern, the insider explains, is that not all electronic monitoring is the same. The state has its own electronic monitoring program, while offenders can also seek out private electronic monitoring out of their own pocket and have it also be eligible for the credit. Some in the criminal justice field call it “pre-serving” a sentence.
Electronic monitoring has rightly been welcomed into Alaska’s criminal justice system as a way to better-handle low-risk or low-income offenders who’ve traditionally filled prison while awaiting trial unable to afford bail. But legislators will need to be asking whether in cases like this it’s being properly and equitably applied.
Laws only go so far
Still, the problems raised with how the laws combined to let Schneider off easy is one part of the story. At larger issue is just how the state decided to reach its plea deal and the apparent lack of effort to involve the victim in the proceedings.
The Department of Law had to put out a news release on Friday to explain that the sentencing had been in accordance with the law, arguing that they took the deal because they couldn’t prove kidnapping had occurred because the victim got in Schneider’s car willingly.
During the sentencing hearing, which was reported on by KTVA, the victim was not included and Schneider offered the victim no apology or remorse for what the long-term impacts his actions may have had on her.
Instead, he focused on what the process had done for him.
“It has given me a year to really work on myself and become a better person, and a better husband, and a better father, and I’m very eager to continue that journey,” he said.
It seems that attitude wasn’t just limited to Schneider, but in the eyes of many it also appeared in Anchorage Assistant District Attorney Andrew Grannik who said this was Schneider’s “one pass” (which the Department of Law later characterized as “was unfortunate and misunderstood”), or Judge Michael Corey who said “this can never happen again.”
Both Corey and Grannik are the target of public outrage and opposition, including an effort to oppose the retention of Corey at this year’s ballot. The group plans to hold a “No more free passes” rally next month.
For these groups, it’s not just the laws that are at issue but the underlying attitudes that allow men to escape serious penalties while leaving the victim out of the resolution–questioning why she chose to get into the car in the first place.
Was plea deal the state reached with Schneider really the best deal? Was it the sort of deal that they would have reached if they had been able to reach the victim by phone? Or is it simply the most expedient resolution in an underfunded, overworked and often outdated system?