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Court of appeals vacates drug sentence due to statutory conflict


Statutory law is complex. In Kansas, the Kansas Annotated Statutes (KSA) comprises thousands of sections. In some cases, the statutes may discuss other sections of the statutes explicitly by number, and other times separate statutes may appear to apply to the same circumstance or event. That that may cause a conflict.

A Kansas man was sentenced to 24 months for possession of methamphetamine and one count of fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer. There were two sections, K.S.A. 2014 Supp. 21-6824 and K.S.A. 2014 Supp. 21-6805(d) that could apply. The first includes a mandatory sentencing to drug treatment. The second provides an option for the judge to sentence the offender to a drug treatment program.


The Kansas Court of Appeals found that this created an ambiguity and the two sections cannot be reconciled.

The rules of statutory interpretation require that a court give a statute's words their plain meaning and if the plain meaning indicates that there is an irreconcilable conflict, the court should resolve the conflicting set of criminal laws that impose a penalty in favor of the defendant.

This is because the state acts through the legislature and the fact that the legislature created the conflict, it should not benefit from its own sloppy drafting.

The state attempted to argue that it would be nonsensical that an offender with a substance dependence disorder would be allowed drug treatment when a lower level offender would see prison time.

The court countered that targeting an individual with a substance abuse problem with a drug treatment program, in fact, makes sense. While that makes perfect sense, it is almost hard to imagine the Kansas legislature intending to make that much sense.

His case was remanded and the trial court will have to consider the resentencing in light of the court of appeals' opinion.


Source: kscourts.org, "Kansas v. Joseph L. Swazey, III," Court of Appeals of the State of Kansas, No. 112,351, October 2, 2015

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