- Associated Press - Friday, July 17, 2015

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - A Superior Court judge erred when he rejected a plea agreement for a man who injured his infant son, the Alaska Court of Appeals ruled in a decision released Friday.

Superior Court Judge Philip Volland incorrectly rejected the plea agreement as too lenient, with a presumptive sentence of one to three years, in the 2014 case because prosecutors chose not to pursue aggravating factors, Appeals Court judges said.

The existence of certain aggravating factors must be proved at a jury trial. A decision to refrain from taking them to a jury is a charging decision left to prosecutors, the judges ruled.

The decision came in the Anchorage case of Dimitrios Nickolaos Alexiadis, who was charged with assault for fracturing the leg, arm and ribs of his infant son, Appeals Court judges wrote.

Alexiadis, now 24, agreed to plead guilty to second-degree assault, a felony. In exchange, prosecutors dismissed two other charges and agreed not to pursue aggravating factors that could have allowed a judge to issue a longer sentence.

Volland initially accepted the guilty plea. However, after reviewing a presentence report, he rejected the agreement because the state did not raise aggravating factors - that the victim was particularly vulnerable, and that he was a member of the same “social unit.”

Volland said that by accepting the plea deal, he would have been limited to the one- to three-year presumptive sentencing range, and he concluded that was too lenient under the facts of the case.

The Alaska Public Defender’s office, which did not immediately respond Friday to requests for comment, appealed. Prosecutors initially opposed the appeal, but they later agreed that Volland did not have authority to reject the plea agreement.

Appeals Court judges, citing previous cases, said certain aggravating factors must be proved to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. The aggravating factors in the Alexiadis case were in that category.

“With respect to those aggravating factors that require a jury trial, the State’s decision to litigate these aggravating factors, or to refrain from litigating them, should be categorized as a charging decision - a decision that is left to the sole discretion of the executive branch,” the judges said.

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