July 10th. The Kansas Supreme Court has issued its opinion in the case of In re Care and Treatment of Miller (No. 97,273), an appeal against indefinite detention as a sexually violent predator. In a 5-2 decision, written by Justice Carole Beier, the Court held that Richard Miller was properly committed despite the use of evidence of his committing other crimes being introduced at his commitment hearing. In doing so the Court held that its State v. Gunby holding limiting the use of prior bad acts did not apply to persistent sex-offender commitment proceedings. Justice Eric Rosen, joined by a temporarily appointed member of the Court, dissented and would have applied Gunby to these proceedings. Note: Judge Melissa Standridge of the Court of Appeals served on the Court in place of former Chief Justice Kay McFarland.
Richard Miller committed aggravated criminal sodomy on a 15 year old girl in 1980. He was convicted of burglary in 1992. He has a long criminal history, rich with other crimes and court appearances. The Johnson County DA sought to commit him as a sexually violent predator. Kansas law provides that someone who has been convicted or charged with a sex-offense and who has a mental abnormality that makes them likely to commit further acts in the future may be indefinitely committed, provided a Jury finds that they are a sexually violent predator.
At trial, evidence was introduced by various means about past offenses that Miller had been charged with where the charges were dropped. These included an attempted rape charge that stemmed from a burglary he committed on a duplex where a minor was in the bath. Evidence of non-sexual crimes was also introduced (including the 1992 burglary).
On appeal, Miller argued that this evidence amounted to evidence of prior bad acts being used in contravention of K.S.A. 60-455, which limits the use of this evidence to ensure a fair trial in the case at hand. The Kansas Supreme Court’s decision in State v. Gunby has further restricted the use of this evidence through its construction of this statute.
The Court determined that neither K.S.A. 60-455 nor Gunby apply to proceedings such as this. It cited a case which preceded Gunby (State v. Hay) which held that K.S.A. 60-455 did not apply to such cases since it exists to prevent a criminal’s propensity to have committed one particular crime being used to prove that they have in fact committed another particular crime. In contrast, in these proceedings the determination is forward facing – determining whether the criminal is likely to commit another crime in the future.
Miller’s appeal was thus dismissed, along with a number of other objections he had raised (e.g. that the State should not have been allowed to introduce witnesses to prove the 1980 crime since Miller had been willing to stipulate to it). All of Miller’s claims were rejected, but the holding regarding K.S.A. 60-455 is doubtlessly the most significant.
Justice Eric Rosen dissented, expressing frustration that the Court’s Gunby decision was being curtailed. He would have held that K.S.A. 60-455 did apply to these cases and that the sort of evidence the majority opinion would allow to be admitted would jeopardize defendants rights to a fair trial. He noted that the Legislature had crafted these type of commitment proceedings after criminal law, by introducing a jury. Judge Standridge joined Justice Rosen’s dissent.