Decision: State v. Spotts

May 1st. The Kansas Supreme Court has issued its opinion in State v. Spotts (No. 100,084), an appeal against a sentence for child rape. In a unanimous opinion, written by Justice Dan Biles, the Court rejected Walter Spotts attempt to have his consecutive life sentences ruled “cruel and unusual punishments” under Article 9 of the Kansas Bill of Rights. Note: This opinion is Justice Biles’ first, since being appointed to the Court earlier this year by now former Governor Kathleen Sebelius (D).

Convicted felon Walter Spotts had sex with a 12 year old on more than one occasion. When charged he pled no contest to two counts of rape and one of sexual intercourse with a child under the age of 14. At sentencing, he presented some evidence in mitigation and argued for a downward departure from his “minimum” sentence. The State argued against this, citing aggravating factors. Ultimately the Judge declined to grant a downward departure and sentenced Spotts to two consecutive life sentences, the first without the possibility of parole for 51 years, the second without the possibility of parole for 25 years.

On appeal, Spotts made two arguments. The first was that the sentences were a Cruel and Unusual Punishment under the Kansas Bill of Rights. The second was that the District Court should have granted a downward departure based on Spotts’ mitigating evidence. The Kansas Supreme Court rejected both arguments.

The Cruel and Unusual Punishment argument was rejected on the grounds that it was not raised before the District Court. As a general rule, new arguments cannot be added to a case in the appellate stage and therefore this claim was foreclosed.

The second argument was rejected on the grounds that the District Court acted within its discretion in sentencing. The statute governing these crimes required a life sentence without the possibility of parole for at least 25 years “unless the judge finds substantial and compelling reasons, following a review of mitigating circumstances, to impose a departure”. The Kansas Supreme Court has held that the standard by which the decision of the District Court is to be reviewed in these circumstances is one where the court is presumed to not to have abused its discretion if a reasonable person could agree with the Court’s pronounced sentence. Since reasonable people could agree, the sentence was affirmed.

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