February 6th. The Kansas Supreme Court has issued its opinion in State v. Salts (No. 99,533) an appeal against a child abuse conviction on the grounds of erroneous jury instructions. In a unanimous opinion, written by Justice Beier, the Court found an error in one of the standard pattern jury instructions, but found it was insufficient to reverse the late Alan Salts’ conviction for indecent liberties with a child. Note: this case was argued while Chief Justice McFarland was still a member of the court. She was recused from the case and her place taken by Judge Melissa Standridge of the Court of Appeals.
Alan Salts met a 15 year old (K.D.) at a gas station after K.D. had run away from home. He took her to his house where he was joined by another 15 year old girl (A.L.). Salts gave the girls alcohol, though A.L. drank little. K.D. ended up lying down on a bed upstairs where twice K.D. caught Salts in the process of touching her. After this A.L. called the police. Salts was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Salts died soon after his appeal was filed, but in Kansas death will not prevent a timely direct appeal from proceeding since there is a public benefit from the resolution of the case.
Salts objected to the use of the phrase “Another trial would be a burden on both sides.” in the jury instructions which his lawyers encouraged the jury to reach a verdict. They also argued that this instruction conflicted with another instruction which told the jury not to be concerned about what happens after they have delivered their verdict. The State argued that this instruction (which comes from Jury Instruction Pattern PIK 3d 68.12) was there to ensure that jurors spend time diligently and fairly considering all sides in the case, and not simply hang at the earliest impasse. The State noted that the instruction also made it clear that the challenged language did not tell jurors that they had to give in to pressure and come to a decision. The Court for its part agrees with Salts and finds that this part of the instruction is erroneous. The Pattern Instruction Committee is instructed to amend this pattern to correct this problem.
The standard Salts lawyers would have to meet to secure a reversal of conviction would be that the jury instruction was clearly erroneous, which would mean that there was a real possibility that the jury would have reached a different verdict without it. Therefore, although the instruction contained an error the Court held that Salts conviction was safe as there was no reason to believe that he would not have been found guilty without this instruction. His conviction was therefore affirmed.