Decision: State v. Horn

May 8th. The Kansas Supreme Court has issued its opinion in State v. Horn (No. 100,373). In a unanimous decision, written by Justice Johnson, the court threw out a Jessica’s Law 25 year sentence that had been imposed on Joshua Horn for attempted aggravated criminal sodomy on a child under 14. Horn will be resentenced using the non-drug Kansas Sentencing Guidelines grid.

Joshua Horn attempted to commit aggravated criminal sodomy on a child under 14. Justice Johnson’s opinion does not cover Horn’s crime in any detail, and a web search turns up nothing so we cannot provide any more information about what led to his being charged. Under Jessica’s Law he was sentenced to a life sentence without the possibility of parole for 25 years.

Horn appealed his sentence. He argued that there is a conflict in the statutes describing sentencing. The crime he was convicted of covers attempting to commit any off-grid felony, and prescribes a sentence on the non-drug grid for a level one felony. However, Jessica’s Law prescribes a hard-25 sentence for the crime. The Court sided with Horn.

While the State had argued that Jessica’s Law was the more specific statute and therefore should govern the conflict, the Court held that either statute could be read as the more specific one. It also noted that in the same session of the legislature where Jessica’s Law was passed, that the Court had amended the statute concerning attempted felonies to make its sentencing rule not apply to two terrorism related offenses, but had not done so for Jessica’s Law.

Therefore the Court applied the Rule of Lenity which meant that of the two conflicting sentencing options the one most favourable to the defendant should apply. The Court did not provide any information about Horn’s criminal history, so it is not clear what his sentence will be, but it is possible to determine the lower limit: if Horn has a clean record or only one misdemeanor he could be sentenced to as little as 12 years.

Commentary: Justice Johnson’s opinion is a very brief one, yet significant because it removes a category of crimes from the provisions of Jessica’s Law. We feel confident in predicting that a Bill to make clear that the Jessica’s Law sentence applies to such cases will quickly be passed in next year’s legislative session. The moral of this story for the Legislature: spend more time cross-checking the statutes and be more precise about how laws are to work.

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