Decision: State v. Woodward

March 6th. The Kansas Supreme Court issued one opinion today: State v. Woodward (No. 99,280), a second collateral attack on David Woodward’s 1991 conviction for the rape of two children and murder of one. In a unanimous decision, authored by Justice Johnson, the court rejected Woodward’s argument that the prosecutor broke the terms of his plea bargain by forcefully articulating the gravity of his crimes at the sentencing hearing.

David L. Woodward molested a five year old and an eight year old. He killed the five year old. After his arrest a plea bargain was arranged whereby Woodward would plead guilty to various charges of rape, molestation and murder and the State would seek a sentence of life imprisonment, followed by ten years imprisonment [the ten years presumably being tacked on at the point of parole eligibility on the life sentence]. At sentencing, his Defense Counsel presented various alleged mitigating factors, and then recommended that the Judge follow the terms of the plea bargain.

Among the ‘mitigating’ factors was a suggestion that Woodward’s psychiatric evaluation and diagnosis as a pedophile was flawed. Woodward’s wife also spoke on his behalf and stated that (contrary to his plea) he did not murder the child. Following this, the prosecutor spoke about the crimes Woodward committed and rebutted several of the points raised in mitigation. The sentencing judge rejected the plea agreement and sentenced Woodward to life, followed by thirty years imprisonment. In this case, Woodward argued that the prosecutor broke the terms of the plea agreement in her arguments at sentencing. In essence, his position was that by rebutting the defense counsel’s arguments and describing the crimes the prosecutor sought to persuade the Judge not to follow the plea agreement.

The Kansas Supreme Court rejected Woodward’s argument. Noting that the sentencing Judge would have been able to hand down a lower sentence than the plea agreement had he so chosen, the Court holds that there was nothing in the prosecutors’ actions which indicates that she did not uphold her part of the bargain and argue in support of the sentence in the plea agreement. In this situation, her rebuttal of the mitigating evidence was an act to support the original plea agreement.

The Court also rejected a further argument of Woodwards’ that he be able to make an out of time appeal under a statute governing admissability of certain evidence, because he only recently discovered the existence of the statute. While the Court rejected this argument on the old maxim that ignorance of the law is no excuse, it also devoted a couple of paragraphs to explaining other flaws in the legal theory Woodward was attempting to make with this part of his appeal.

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