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Kansas Supreme Court reverses sentencing guideline case

 

Sentencing guidelines are complex. So complex that even the Kansas State Legislature and the Kansas Supreme Court sometimes have to make revisions. In a recent case, the Supreme Court reversed a decision it only made one year ago on the question of classification of crimes as person or nonperson.

In a difficult opinion, the Court painstakingly examines the history of the Kansas Sentencing Guidelines Act (KSGA) and of the cases where the Court interpreted that act. Just last year the Court had found "the comparable in-state offense for purposes of classifying the prior convictions was the Kansas robbery statute in effect when the defendant committed his Illinois crimes."

 

This holding created a concern that numerous inmates would be eligible for rehearings for their sentences, and potentially reduced sentences. The Kansas legislature amended the KSGA, making it clear that felony convictions made prior to 1993, at a time when Kansas did not "classify" its offenses as persona or nonperson would be classified based on comparable crimes classification when a new crime is committed.

The Supreme Court found that the prior decision from last year was incorrect. And it adopted a new rule, which matches the language the legislature added in 2015.

Statutory interpretation and construction can be very complex, as it often involves the court's attempt to determine the intent of long past legislatures.

It also seems that in one of the cases used to develop the argument in this case, the State of Kansas appears to have argued that the classification of the crime at the time it occurred should control, as that would have resulted in a longer sentence.

Part of the complexity and confusion of this case owes to the failure of the legislature to clearly state prior to 2015 how unclassified offenses should be scored for sentencing purposes and the difficulties courts have in attempting to deal with such absences.

Source: kansascitystar.com, "Kansas Supreme Court reverses itself in sentencing case affecting hundreds of inmates," Tony Rizzo, September 20, 2015

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