Decision: State v. Conley

December 19th. The Kansas Supreme Court has issued its decision in State v. Conley (No. 99,279), in a unanimous opinion written by the Chief Justice. The Court rejected Anthony Conley’s appeal of a summary denial of a motion to correct an illegal sentence on the grounds that since he had already had one such appeal rejected it was procedurally barred by res judicata.

Conley, in a pro-se brief which the Chief Justice implies was a shoddy piece of work, along with his counsel on a separate brief, made the assertion that the original ruling of the Court in Conley’s previous appeal had been called into question by the way the United States Supreme Court had developed its Apprendi line of cases. Specifically he sought to argue that because the mandatory minimum component of his life sentence had been raised to 40 years based on facts not presented to the jury, there was an Apprendi problem. The Court reviews the Apprendi progeny to show that based on the law today this is not the case, since it only comes into play when the maximum term a defendant will serve is increased beyond the term for the crime they were convicted of. In an X to life situation, since the jury has found the defendant eligible to serve life, they are not needed to make findings beyond a reasonable doubt to determine the X component.

In any case, the Court also makes it clear that res judicata does apply to motions to correct illegal sentences, rejecting Conley’s parsing of the statute. In this respect these motions are just like any other and there is only one bite of the cherry. Having (unsuccessfully) litigated an Apprendi claim, Conley does not get another.

Conley also argued that it was inappropriate for the District Court to have entered a summary judgement on his motion. The Court is even more dismissive of his argument here, describing it as an attempt to change the law and so disorganized as to be the equivalent of not stating a claim. Unsurprisingly, Conley loses here and the Court holds that District Courts do have a duty to check such motions and can dismiss those that are lacking in a sustantial issue of fact or law.

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