There will be a jury trial in Juneau Superior Court solely to determine whether “aggravators” should increase the sentence of a man who already has pleaded guilty a drug charge.
Brian O’Neil Yambao Arce, 38, pleaded guilty in May to second-degree misconduct involving controlled substances, a class B felony, after bringing methamphetamine on a commercial flight to sell in Juneau.
What remains at issue is his sentence.
Arce was stopped at the Juneau International Airport coming off a flight from Seattle on April 14, after a Juneau Police Department K-9 alerted on his bag. A subsequent search reportedly revealed 216 grams of a white crystalline substance that field-tested positive for meth; Arce allegedly said he does not live in Juneau and was visiting friends.
In May, he entered a guilty plea without an agreement with the District Attorney’s office.
In court Wednesday, Assistant District Attorney Amy Paige said she planned to proceed on requesting transportation of a controlled substance, and the large quantity, as sentencing aggravators.
An aggravating factor allows the court to go above the presumptive sentencing range for an offense, which in this case is zero to two years, Paige explained. If an aggravating factor is found, the court can sentence the defendant up to 10 years, the maximum term available for the offense.
Judge Philip Pallenberg noted he has never presided over an aggravator-only trial.
“It’s a tricky situation,” he said. “The jury is not deciding guilt or innocence. … I would have to issue instructions to the jury that Arce was found guilty of the underlying charge.”
Paige estimated the trial could take three days; a pre-trial conference was set for July 31 with a trial scheduled to start Aug. 7.
A lingering question of whether a prior federal conviction could potentially increase his sentence was also discussed Wednesday; that conviction could have potentially increased his sentencing range to two to five years.
According to Paige, that federal conviction was in California, for conspiracy to defraud a casino, and would not count against Arce.
Bail argued for prison drug-smuggling suspects
Two of three co-defendants in a jail drug-smuggling case were in Juneau Superior Court Tuesday.
Greggory C. Wright, 23, and Aleasha S. Hayward, 30, have been charged with three counts each of first-degree promoting contraband; Hayward also was charged with tampering with physical evidence.
Wright was supposed to be arraigned on a violation of conditions of release, reportedly for violating an order to have no contact with Hayward after a June 10 arraignment. According to District Attorney Angie Kemp, Wright spoke to her 26 times on the phone between June 10 and June 13.
Judge Pallenberg left his bail at $1,000 and strongly cautioned him against further contact with Hayward. He is set to return to court on the original case on July 18.
Hayward was arrested Friday on the warrant and was initially arraigned over the weekend with a $500 cash performance bond set.
Kemp on Tuesday asked to increase her bail, telling Pallenberg she had not been aware at the time of Hayward’s criminal history. Kemp alluded to the phone conversations between Wright and Hayward, including discussion of bringing drugs into prison through, among other tactics, contact visits, and alleging an ongoing drug smuggling operation.
Pallenberg said there was no good reason for Hayward’s bail to be lower than Wright’s, and set it at $1,000 cash performance. She is also set to return to court July 18, with the jury trial scheduled to start Sept. 5.
Delores N. Smith, 20, was arraigned on Monday.
The arrests came after Alaska State Trooper Chris Umbs had begun monitoring calls at Lemon Creek Correctional Center regarding the transport of controlled substances into the jail, and reportedly listened to scores of phone calls between Wright and Hayward.
Wright and Hayward reportedly planned a contact visit and enlisted Smith. Umbs conducted a warrant search during that contact visit on Feb. 11 and Smith reportedly produced a balloon with meth and marijuana, telling the trooper that Hayward gave it to her.
• Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 523-2246 or firstname.lastname@example.org.