Anchorage traffic stop in felony conviction thrown out
A three-judge state panel has thrown out a 2014 Anchorage traffic stop that led to a man’s conviction on felony weapons-misconduct charges, saying the stop was based on an improper reading of municipal code.
The Alaska Court of Appeals issued its decision last week regarding the case of Craig Snook. Court records show a jury convicted Snook, 35, on four counts including providing false information to a law enforcement officer following a Feb. 2, 2014 traffic stop by Anchorage police.
According to the court’s decision, Snook had been a passenger in a vehicle that fishtailed as it made a turn from Arctic Boulevard to head east on Fireweed Lane, sliding its rear end into an adjacent lane.
“During the traffic stop, the officer discovered that Snook was in possession of a concealable firearm and metal knuckles,” the decision read. “In addition, Snook gave a false name to the officer.”
The officer made the stop based on a section of city code entitled “Starting Parked or Stopped Vehicle.” The ordinance bars people from accelerating a vehicle “which is stopped, standing or parked on or along a street, or which is entering a street” fast enough to make the vehicle fishtail, lose control or unnecessarily squeal its tires.
Snook’s attorney had challenged the traffic stop as unlawful at trial in Superior Court, where Judge Michael Spaan ruled that because the vehicle was “entering a street” the traffic stop for fishtailing was valid.
When Snook appealed that decision, however, appellate judges David Mannheimer, Marjorie Allard and Tracey Wollenberg found that “the ordinance is directed toward vehicles that enter a street from an off-street location – for example, from a parking lot or a driveway.”
The higher court noted the title of the ordinance, and that three of the four conditions mentioned in the ordinance involve initially stationary vehicles. It also mentioned language barring tires from squealing “on the street, or on the surface on which the vehicle is standing immediately before it enters the street.” For those reasons, the court found that the ordinance doesn’t apply to vehicles “already moving in traffic” from one street to another.
“Accordingly, the ordinance did not authorize the traffic stop that occurred in Snook’s case, and the superior court should have granted Snook’s motion to suppress,” the decision read. “The judgment of the superior court is reversed.”
Anchorage police spokesman MJ Thim declined to comment on the decision, saying the department doesn't discuss appellate matters.
Terisia Chleborad, the assistant attorney general who argued the appeal for the state Department of Law, said there were no plans to appeal the appeals court’s decision – but that she had thought the state would win the case.
“I think they are misinterpreting the code,” Chleborad said. “It looks like they’ve relied heavily on the subtitle to the code, and according to the code the subtitles are not part of the (code) itself, usually.”
Snook has been on probation or parole since June 2016, according to a statewide inmate database.