This post originally appeared at The Kansas Progress, before this blog went live. Consequently the date in the title does not tally with the date on the post.
The Kansas Supreme Court today handed down two unanimous decisions in Criminal Law cases. Both decisions were written by Justice Luckert.
In State v. Hall, No. 95,896 the Court overruled the Court of Appeals and held that Eric Eugene Hall properly had his probation on a 1998 sentence for aggravated battery revoked on account of his having been convicted of two counts of aggravated robbery in 1999. The complication in the case was that the warrant for his probation revocation was issued in 1999, but not served until his release at the termination of his robbery sentence in 2005. Hall, and the Court of Appeals held that this 6-year delay constituted a waiving by the state of the probation violation and a violation of Hall’s Due Process rights. In overturning the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court held that this was not the case, since the State had lodged a detainer with the prison in which Hall was held and had not therefore waived the violation. Further, the Due Process claim could not be valid unless a liberty interest was impacted by the delay and that in this case none was.
In State v. Ortega-Cadelan, No. 98,713, the Supreme Court rejected Angelo Ortega-Cadelan’s appeal against his 25-year mandatory minimum sentence for raping his 5 year old stepdaughter. This revolting individual had raised two arguments: first, that the 25 year sentence violated the Cruel and Unusual Punishments clause of the Kansas Constitution. Secondly, that the judge in his case had abused his discretion in not being swayed by mitigating factors to depart from the mandatory-minimum sentence and hand down a lighter punishment.
The first claim was despatched on procedural grounds: no constitutional claim, not raised at trial, may be raised on appeal. This case did not fall into the narrow exceptions to that doctrine. On the second argument, the Supreme Court ruled that while a judge has the discretion to take mitigating factors into account in deciding to not issue a mandatory-minimum sentence, the mere existence of mitigating factors does not compel them to. Further, the Supreme Court would only review a decision not to depart from the minimum sentence in such circumstances where “no reasonable person” would agree with the judge’s decision. In reaching this decision, it should be noted that the Supreme Court ruled that while sentences handed down under the Sentencing Guidelines are not appealable due to the jurisdiction stripping language in the statute, that language does not cover mandatory-minimums such as Ortega-Cadelan’s and therefore such sentences can be appealed. The State had made the argument that the sentence was not able to be appealed at all.
It should be noted, that while the phrase ‘mandatory’ appears throughout the opinion, the fact that a judge can use their discretion, i.e. their opinion, to lessen the punishment means that the word mandatory does not mean what the public necessarily thinks it means.
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