House Bill 14 becomes law, closes 'Schneider Loophole'
With the survivor of his crime absent, in a courtroom in which every person who had a voice was male, Justin Schneider struck a deal with the state. Jail time would not be part of his sentence for strangling an Alaska Native woman unconscious and masturbating on her in 2017.
The crime was heinous — the lack of punishment sparked public outrage.
A single news crew captured the courtroom outcome the judge described as breathtaking, and it became known as the 'Schneider Loophole.'
Friday, Gov. Mike Dunleavy signed House Bill 14 into law. The measure is the result of legislative advocacy by No More Free Passes, a grassroots campaign formed in response to the Schneider case, and bipartisan support from lawmakers.
HB 14 makes unwanted contact with semen a sex crime, ends the practice of giving defendants credit toward their sentence for time spent on an ankle monitor before trial in sexual assault cases and it increases the penalties for assaults in which a victim is strangled to the point of unconsciousness — all changes that would have impacted the outcome of Schneider's case. It also requires that prosecutors notify victims of sex crimes before making plea deals.
"I think it signifies a shift," said Elizabeth Williams, founder of No More Free Passes. "For a long time, our approach to sexual assault and domestic violence has just been awareness campaigns, posters, PSAs, but not much action. This represents really firm concrete action that victim advocates were asking for, and we were able to get our legislature and our governor to listen because we all stood together as one voice."
The group organized just days after KTVA's initial reporting on the plea deal, then quickly formed three goals, Williams explained: Remove the judge from the bench, change the law, and improve the Department of Law.
"I think the reason why we're so successful is we had a really simple story that Alaskans took hold of and they've supported us every step of the way," she said.
In an unprecedented move, voters ousted Judge Michael Corey during a retention election in November. Corey later testified during a legislative committee hearing to help lawmakers crafting the changes in HB 14.
The Department of Law stood by its decision in the wake of the plea deal, insisting existing laws did not afford prosecutors necessary tools to produce a different outcome.
Williams said the group's work now includes relationship building within the DOL to advocate for victims, an effort she believes is going well.
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