Decision: Harris v. State

March 27th. The Kansas Supreme Court has issued its opinion in Harris v. State (No. 98,845), a collateral attack upon a murder conviction. In a unanimous opinion, written by Justice Rosen, the court rejected DeAndre Harris’ appeal for habeas relief, rejecting his claims of ineffective assistance of counsel.

Harris and another man, Code Laster, were convicted of shooting Paul Moore to death in 1996. Both men’s defense had been to claim that another man was the guilty party. The Kansas Supreme Court rejected Harris’ direct appeal in 1998. In a series of motions since 1999 Harris has sought to raise a claim that he was not adequately represented by his trial attorney. The District Court ultimately rejected these claims in 2004 and after some changes in appointed appellate counsel the Kansas Supreme Court addressed the case in this decision. Meanwhile, Harris’ co-defendant Laster also brought a habeas action claiming ineffective assistance of counsel. He lost, the Court of Appeals dispensing with his petition in 2006.

Harris raised three claims in his habeas petition, that he maintained showed he was inadequately defended. These were that:

  1. His attorney should have sought an instruction to the jury on ‘conspiracy to murder’, as an alternative crime for them to convict on.
  2. His attorney should have sought a separate trial, instead of his having been tried with Laster.
  3. His attorney should have developed facts in the preliminary hearing to facilitate a motion to dismiss.

The Kansas Supreme Court rejects all three arguments:

  1. During the preliminaries of the trial, a charge of ‘conspiracy to murder’ had been dismissed. Since ‘conspiracy to murder’ is not a lesser included offense of murder, the trial court could not have issued an instruction to the jury on it, whether one was requested or not.
  2. None of the established reasons for severing a trial of two co-defendants was present in this case, indeed Laster and Harris presented the same defense. Therefore counsel’s ‘failure’ to request a severance was not defective.
  3. Harris’ third and final issue was not elaborated upon in his brief and was therefore deemed to be abandoned.

Consequently, Harris will remain in gaol, serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole until 2022.

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