Charter pilot Ken Jouppi allowed a passenger to bring cans of beer on a flight to a dry village. He served three days in jail.
Alaska law permits the seizure of planes used to "import" alcohol into local-option dry communities.
But Jouppi's attorney argued Jouppi never imported alcohol, because his plane never left the tarmac in April 2012, when Alaska State Troopers executed a search warrant on the aircraft.
Judge Patrick Hammers also fined Jouppi $1,500. The beer equaled about seven gallons of alcohol.
Hammers originally called for the plane's seizure, but determined in an order issued last week that Jouppi's failure to reach the dry community meant he didn't import alcohol.
Jouppi's lawyers argued said their client wasn't aware of what was in the groceries being placed on the flight to Beaver. However, state prosecutors said Jouppi is the charter of choice for bootleggers because of his "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
"Dry" or "damp" villages are communities that have passed laws banning or restricting the sale of alcohol, where a 750-milliliter bottle can fetch up to $250.
The misdemeanor trial was an offshoot of a larger bootlegging investigation against Jouppi's company, KenAir. The trial dealt with the circumstances of April 3, 2012, when troopers executed a search warrant on Jouppi's Cessna 206.
Jouppi is appealing the entire conviction, but for now, at least gets to keep his plane.
"Forfeitures are not favored in the law," Hammers said in his ruling. "A statute which imposes forfeiture must be strictly construed. Its effects cannot be extended beyond its plain, ordinary, and usual meaning, applied with common sense."
In this case, he said, the "plain, ordinary and usual" meaning of the word "import" doesn't apply to beer sitting on a tarmac bound for a destination.
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