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West's lawyer moves to dismiss indictment

Posted: December 2, 2011 - 1:04am

The lawyer for Ryan West, the 25-year-old Juneau man facing second-degree murder charges after a fatal car crash this summer, filed a motion Thursday to dismiss the indictment against him.

“Whether or not Ryan was the driver, there’s no way that he should be charged with murder two,” public defender David Seid told reporters after a status hearing Thursday in Juneau Superior Court.

Seid argues in the motion there’s insufficient evidence of this charge, citing an Alaska Supreme Court decision that states “Prior Alaska cases have reserved the murder two charge for instances of extreme intoxication with egregious driving conduct.”

“The only speeding vehicle cases, absent extreme intoxication, are instances where the defendant was ‘driving a car at very high speeds along a main street,’ thus endangering numerous drivers and pedestrians,” Seid wrote. “Nowhere in any reported cases are there instances where a person is charged with ‘depraved heart’ murder where the prosecution theory is that a person drove too fast under the circumstances and failed to negotiate a turn — without extreme intoxication, nor any intoxication — and the passenger died as a result of the crash.”

Seid also said inadmissible evidence — a hospital screening blood alcohol test reading 71 milligrams per 100 deciliters, or .071 percent — was presented to the grand jury. Seid says the prosecution told the jurors that the “illegal limit for driving is (0.08) or over, but the blood was taken some time after the accident, but there is no inference that you can draw whether or not he was impaired based on the .071.”

Seid said there are some instances when the prosecution may admit a lab report, but that evidence must be legally admissible at trial. According to Seid, the only admissible blood alcohol report was the state of Alaska’s Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory Report that listed West’s blood alcohol result as “None Detected.”

Seid also questioned whether the prosecutor’s instructions to the grand jury on how to consider the charge of murder two were adequate. Jurors were told there were four factors to consider in determining whether a defendant has displayed an extreme indifference to the value of human life — the social utility of the actor’s conduct; the magnitude of the risk his conduct creates; the actor’s knowledge of the risk; and any precautions taken to minimize the risk. But jurors weren’t informed how to analyze these factors, Seid wrote.

District Attorney Dave Brower told Judge Louis Menendez in court he had expected the motion to be filed. Later, outside the courtroom, he said he intended on filing a motion to oppose.

West was indicted by a grand jury in August on one count of murder in the second degree, an unclassified felony.  He was involved in a single-vehicle crash that resulted in the death of 19-year-old Gabriel Carte.

Juneau Police Department officers who responded to the scene, near Mile 32 of Glacier Highway on June 6, determined alcohol and speed to be factors in the case.

West told the grand jury he had drank two beers that evening and did not know if Carte drank alcohol, according to Seid’s motion, and that Carte was driving the vehicle at the time of the crash.

“Ryan West told the grand jury that the decedent was driving the truck,” Seid wrote. “Although West was driving when they left Eagle Beach, the decedent asked him if he could drive and West pulled over at a kayak pull out on the side of the road and switched places with the decedent. West described the accident and his attempts at CPR. One grand juror asked if West ever let other people drive his truck. West said that others had driven his truck many times before, including the decedent.”

In the motion, Seid also argued some of those testifying before the grand jury, which meets in secret, were allowed to offer non-expert opinions about who they thought the driver was, and that some of the character evidence and reputation evidence offered should not be admissible.

Menendez said the trial for West would probably be delayed at least until late spring of 2012. West is next due in court on Jan. 3 for further proceedings.

• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at emily.miller@juneauempire.com.

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