The Kansas Supreme Court released the following published decisions today:
Case No. 114,567: State of Kansas v. Grant Wilson
Archived oral argument video
The Supreme Court clarified that the two-step analytical framework—set out in State v. Sherman, 305 Kan. 88, 378 P.3d 1060 (2016), for reviewing claims alleging a prosecutorial behavior during a jury trial requires reversal—applies equally to sentencing proceedings before a judge. The decision came in an appeal brought by Wilson, who challenged a Reno County District Court order extending his postrelease supervision from three years to his lifetime. Wilson pled guilty in 2007 to aggravated indecent solicitation of a child. He claimed the Reno County district attorney, Keith Schroeder, misstated the facts in Wilson's case during oral arguments in a hearing on the State's motion to lengthen the postrelease supervision. Wilson argued Schroeder's misstatements likely affected the judge's ruling and, therefore, the order was unconstitutional. A divided Kansas Court of Appeals panel reversed the order based on Schroeder's misstatements and ordered a new hearing. The State petitioned the Kansas Supreme Court to review the panel's decision.
In an unanimous opinion written by Justice Dan Biles, the Court noted Kansas caselaw previously addressed claims that prosecutors committed reversible error during jury trials, but had not said whether the same caselaw applied to prosecutors' conduct before a judge. "We hold prosecutorial missteps may implicate due process rights to a fair trial in this nonjury context," Biles wrote.
The Court noted the prosecutor's misstatements about Wilson's crime were not in evidence. "As for the impact of that error," Biles wrote, "it appears reasonably possible the prosecutor's prompt pushed the court into considering unsupported allegations rather than evidence." The case returns to Reno County for another hearing.
Case No. 118,693: In the Matter of Lara M. Owens
Archived oral argument videoOwens was investigated by the Office of the Disciplinary Administrator based on complaints from two of her former clients, alleging multiple violations of the Kansas Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys. The Disciplinary Administrator filed a formal complaint with the Kansas Board for Discipline of Attorneys and the Board held a formal hearing. The hearing panel found Owens violated multiple rules, including those related to competence, diligence, communication, safekeeping property, termination of representation, failing to respond to a demand from a disciplinary authority, and engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice. The hearing panel unanimously recommended a six-month suspension from the practice of law and a requirement for a reinstatement hearing under Kansas Supreme Court Rule 219. Owens challenged the hearing panel's findings that she violated Kansas Rules for Professional Conduct 1.15(b) and 1.16(d) and argued she should be placed on probation or, in the alternative, receive a sanction of published censure. The Supreme Court rejected Owens' arguments because the hearing panel's findings were supported by clear and convincing evidence. The court imposed a six-month suspension from the practice of law with a requirement that Owens undergo a reinstatement hearing under Kansas Supreme Court Rule 219.