State v. Hazelwood

946 P.2d 875 (Alaska 1997)



Reasonable deterrence is the basic principle of the due process balance between individual and societal interests. The ultimate question is whether society can reasonably expect the individual to conform his or her conduct to the law. For the strict liability exceptions, a separate showing of a departure from social mores is unnecessary, as it can reasonably be presumed. This notion of a duty of reasonable social conformity undergirds the entire law of mens rea.


Eleven million gallons of petroleum were discharged onto a reef after respondent captain ran his ship aground. The jury found that respondent had negligently discharged oil onto the land, and he was convicted under Alaska Stat. § 46.03.740 of a class B misdemeanor. The trial court ruled that the conviction could be predicated upon a finding of ordinary negligence. The appellate reversed the trial court’s decision. Petitioner state challenged such order. The state supreme court reversed the appellate court’s holding and remanded the case for consideration of any unresolved issues.


Was a conviction under a civil negligence standard a denial of due process?




Respondent captain was not denied due process sunder Alaska Const. art. I, § 7 because reasonable deterrence was the basic principle of the due process balance between individual and societal interests and society could reasonably expect respondent to conform his conduct to the law. Furthermore, the negligence standard was constitutionally permissible because it approximated what the due process guarantee aimed at: an assurance that criminal penalties would be imposed only when the conduct at issue was something society could reasonably expect to deter. Respondent’s contention that § 46.03.740 itself incorporated a criminal negligence mens rea standard was incorrect.

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