Beer bottle photos admitted in trial

Superior Court Judge Louis Menendez holds up a copy of a photo taken at Michael Rae's residence during a hearing on evidence admissibility – Photo by Matt Miller-KTOO News

Pictures of beer bottles are now evidence in an ongoing Juneau case.

“This evidence, if it’s presented to the jury, would be admissible,” said Superior Court Judge Louis Menendez.

That ruling was issued Thursday by Menendez during the trial of a Juneau man accused of ramming a truck into the Alaskan Brewing Company to steal beer. It’s at least the second test of constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure in this case. This time, it had a different result.

Michael Rae, 54, is accused of theft, burglary, criminal mischief, and vehicle theft in connection with the April 29th incident. He allegedly used a truck taken from the Lemon Creek Breeze-In to crash open the door to the brewery’s gift shop and tasting room. Several six-packs, a case, and two kegs that included different varieties of Alaskan Brewing Company beer were allegedly taken.
Officers served a search warrant at Rae’s residence when they arrested him. But there’s no record of officers establishing probable cause before a judge and no way to tell if the search was conducted outside boundaries of the warrant. As a result, any evidence obtained inside the Switzer Village trailer has been suppressed. Jurors will never know what, if anything, was found.

But what about outside the trailer? Prosecutors also proposed circumstantial evidence in the form of pictures taken by officers during Rae’s arrest. They apparently show Alaska Brewing beer bottles, either intact or broken and fragmented, in the driveway or in a small partially-opened storage shed or lean-to outside. Rae who was already labeled as potentially hostile to police was also allegedly was holding a bottle of Alaskan Brewing IPA with the bright green label in his hand outside the trailer when officers arrived.

“Here we have a very deminimus situation where we have the officer, who’s not even ascended the steps, (and) he’s essentially in the area,” said Judge Menendez. “Right before the steps where he makes these observations which, I believe, are in plain view.”

There are several key exceptions to the requirement for a search warrant. They include consent to a search, what is seen in plain view, and a search of a suspect and their immediate area during an arrest.

One key case that Menendez cites is State of Alaska vs. Ahkivagak decided by the Alaska Court of Appeals in 1986. North Slope Borough police officers went to the home of a suspect in the burglary of a Barrow store. The mother let the two officers in. They went upstairs to find the man and got separated. One of the officers walked into a part of the house where he spotted stereo boxes in plain view matching the description of the stolen items. Appeals court judges ruled that it was a proper seizure.

Superior Court Judge Louis Menendez (left) holds up a copy of a photo for Detective Krag Campbell (right) to review during a hearing on evidence admissibility – Photo by Matt Miller-KTOO News

In the Michael Rae case, Menendez also says the exception of a search incident to an arrest applies to the instant that an officer took that green-labled bottle of IPA.

“The beer had to be taken out of his hand and put somewhere,” said Judge Menendez.

After Judge Menendez’s ruling and a careful documentation of the pictures for a possible appeal, the pictures were shown to the jury. The state rested its case and the defense called to the stand a Lemon Creek Correctional Center employee. He testified that a third man, Rafael Flores, who was an apparent resident of Rae’s trailer, was actually in jail last April. That may have been intended to undermine the credibility and raise questions about the memory of the prosecution’s key witness John McGillis who got kicked out of Rae’s trailer. McGillis said that Flores was also staying there when the burglary and theft occurred.

Rae himself decided not to testify.

Closing arguments in the case will be Friday morning. Then, the jury will begin deliberations.

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