Documenting the 'Molly Hootch' Case

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There are four levels of courts in the Alaska Court System, each with different powers, duties and responsibilities. Alaska has a unified, centrally administered, and totally state-funded judicial system. Municipal governments do not maintain separate courts systems.

The four levels of courts in the Alaska Court System are the supreme court, the court of appeals, the superior court and the district court. The supreme court and court of appeals are appellate courts, while the superior and district courts are trial courts. Jurisdiction and responsibilities of each level of court are set out in Title 22 of the Alaska Statutes.

The supreme court and the superior court were established in the Alaska Constitution. In 1959, the legislature created a district court for each judicial district and granted power to the supreme court to increase or decrease the number of district court judges. In 1980, the legislature created a court of appeals.

The chief justice of the Alaska Supreme Court is the administrative head of the Alaska Court System. An administrative director is appointed by the chief justice with concurrence of the supreme court. The director supervises the administration of all courts in the state.

Rules governing the administration of all courts and the rules of practice and procedure for civil and criminal cases are promulgated by the supreme court.



The Alaska Supreme Court- the supreme court is the appellate court of final authority in Alaska. It consists of a panel of five justices.

Court of Appeals- the court of appeals hears appeals in criminal and quasi-criminal cases (such as juvenile delinquency cases.) It consists of a panel of three judges.

Administrative Office- the supreme court is charged with the responsibility of administering the statewide system. The supreme court delegates most of the administrative matters to the administrative director and her staff.

Superior Court- the superior court is the trial court of general jurisdiction. It has appellate jurisdiction over district court appeals and appeals from administrative agency decisions. There are 34 superior court judgeships.

District Court- the district court has limited civil and criminal jurisdiction. The district court consists of 17 district court judges and 53 authorized magistrate positions.

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Alaska Supreme Court is the highest level of state court in Alaska. It hears appeals from lower state courts and also administers the state's judicial system.

The supreme court is comprised of the chief justice and four associate justices. The five justices, by majority vote, select one of their members to be the chief justice. The chief justice holds that office for three years and may not serve consecutive terms.

The supreme court hears cases on a monthly basis in Anchorage, approximately quarterly in Fairbanks and Juneau, and as needed in other Alaska communities. The court prefers to hear argument in the city where the case was heard in trial court.

The court meets after oral argument and on a bi-weekly basis to confer on cases argued on cases submitted on the briefs. The court decides the cases and announces its decisions in one of three ways:

1) opinions for publication in the Pacific Reporter and in the Alaska Reporter;

2) memorandum opinions and judgments (MO&J's); and

3) orders summarily ruling on the merits of cases or dismissing them.

Though the MO&J's and most orders are not published, the MO&J's are available for public inspection at the Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau offices of the clerk of the appellate courts, and the orders are filed in the clerk's Anchorage office. Current MO&J's are also available on the Alaska Court System web site at:

Under the Alaska Constitution, the supreme court establishes rules for the administration of all courts in the state and for practice and procedure in civil and criminal cases. The supreme court has further adopted rules for the practice of law in Alaska and procedural rules for children's matters, probate, and appeals. The Alaska Legislature may change the court's procedural rules by passing an act expressing its intent to do so by a two-thirds majority of both houses.

The term "jurisdiction" means a court's legal power and authority to hear particular types of cases.

The supreme court has final state appellate jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters:

1. CIVIL APPEALS. The the supreme court must accept appeals from final decisions by the superior court in civil cases (including cases which originated in administrative agencies).

2. The supreme court may exercise its discretion to accept:

a. CRIMINAL APPEALS, from decisions of the court of appeals or upon certification from the court of appeals that the case involves a significant question of constitutional law or an issue of substantial public interest; and

b. PETITIONS, from non-final decisions by the the superior court in civil cases and from final decisions of the superior court on review of the district court's decisions in civil matters.

3. ORIGINAL APPLICATIONS. The the supreme court may also exercise its discretion to hear matters in which relief is not otherwise available, including bar admission and attorney discipline matters and questions of state law certified from the federal courts.

The court of appeals has jurisdiction to hear appeals in cases involving criminal prosecutions, post-conviction relief, juvenile delinquency, extradition, habeas corpus, probation and parole, bail, and the excessiveness or leniency of a sentence:

1. MERIT APPEALS (issues concerning merits of a conviction) or SENTENCE APPEALS (the excessiveness or leniency of sentence)-The court of appeals must hear appeals from final decisions by the superior or the district court.

2. PETITIONS-The court of appeals may exercise its discretion to hear appeals on non-final decisions from the superior court or the district court or from final decisions of the superior court on review of the district court's decisions.

3. ORIGINAL APPLICATIONS-The court of appeals may exercise its discretion to hear cases in which relief cannot be obtained from the court through one of the above types of appeals.

The superior court has the authority to hear all cases, both civil and criminal, properly brought before the state courts (with the very limited exception of matters taken directly to the supreme court). However, the superior court does not routinely hear cases which may be brought in the district court (a court of limited jurisdiction).

The superior court:

The Alaska Constitution provides that the legislature shall establish such lower courts as may be necessary. In 1959, the legislature created a district court for each judicial district and granted to the supreme court the power to increase or decrease the number of district court judges within each judicial district. The district court currently has seventeen judges.

The district court is a trial court of limited jurisdiction. A district court judge may:

Magistrates preside over certain district court matters in areas of the state where services of a full-time district court judge are not required. Some magistrates serve more than one court location. Magistrates also serve in metropolitan areas to handle routine matters and to ease the workload of the district court.

A magistrate is not required to be a lawyer. The magistrate is a judicial officer of the district court whose authority is more limited than the authority of a district court judge.

A magistrate may: