December 5th. The Kansas Supreme Court has issued its decision in State v. Anderson, No. 97,420, the Court unanimously rejected the appeal of one Walter Anderson against his conviction in Wyandotte County for felony murder and aggravated robbery. The conviction arose from Anderson going through the pockets of Gustavo Ramirez-Mendez after he had been beaten over the head by one Timothy Bryant, a friend of Anderson’s. The crime was committed over an (unsuccessful) attempt to take $118 from Ramirez-Mendez, who died from his wounds six days later (January 20th 2005). Justice Nuss wrote the decision.
Anderson raised three arguments on appeal, only one of which was accorded much significance by the court. The two lesser arguments were an objection to testimony of witnesses who reported statements by the injured man that he was attacked by two black males, as this evidence violated the Confrontation Clause of the 6th Amendment, and an objection to the jury instructions at the trial for using the construction ‘innocent…until…guilty’ instead of the form ‘innocent…unless…guilty’. The Court rejected the latter argument since established caselaw is that while incorrect, this constrtuction does not amount to an error warranting reversal. On the former argument, the Court rejected Anderson’s argument (that due to Ramirez-Mendez being dead he was unable to confront his testimony via witnesses that he was hit by two men when he was actually hit by one man and robbed by another rather) as effectively harmless error. Without determining if the testimony should have been excluded the Court noted that the other evidence at the trial, including Anderson’s own testimony, was enough to convict him, even if the disputed statements had been excluded.
The bulk of the opinion was devoted to cleaning up inconsistencies in the Court’s jurisprudence over the defense of compulsion. After noting different threads which implied different standards to determine whether a Court should instruct the jury on the law of the defense of compulsion, the Court held that “A defendant is entitled to instructions on the law applicable to his or her theory of defense if there is evidence to support the theory. However, there must be evidence which, viewed in the light most favorable to the defendant, is sufficient to justify a rational factfinder finding in accordance with the defendant’s theory.” Anderson’s claim at trial was that he robbed Ramirez-Mendez under compulsion because he feared his friend Bryant would attack him if he did not. The Court agreed with the District Court that this claim was not sufficient to entitle him to a jury instruction on compulsion since there was no threat from Bryant and immediately after the robbery Bryant and Anderson went and bought and smoked crack together. Nothing in Anderson’s testimony gave the claim of compulsion any credibility.