OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — Some Kansas prosecutors say a state Supreme Court ruling could lead to the release of more than 200 dangerous inmates who would have their sentences reduced.
The ruling concerns whether a defendant’s prior felony convictions are classified as “crimes against persons” or “nonperson” crimes under current state guidelines, The Kansas City Star reported. The court said in May that all felony convictions from other states before July 1, 1993, should be considered nonperson crimes for sentencing. But after questions arose about ambiguity in that ruling, the court clarified Friday that the ruling pertained only to out-of-state convictions.
Scott Schultz, executive director of the Kansas Sentencing Commission, says an estimated 235 inmates could have their sentences reduced because of the ruling.
“It’s very disappointing,” Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe said. “In all likelihood, it will benefit some really horribly dangerous inmates.”
Under the state guidelines, a defendant who previously committed crimes such as sex offenses, robbery, aggravated assault and murder receives a longer sentence than someone with previous convictions were for “nonperson” crimes like forgery and theft.
Four years ago, inmate Jimmy Murdock appealed after the state lengthened his sentence for a 2010 robbery conviction by classifying it as “crimes against persons” and considering 1984 and 1990 robbery convictions from another state.
He argued that because Kansas did not have the “person” or “nonperson” classifications in place when he was convicted for earlier crimes, the state should not have classified the 2010 conviction as against a “person.” He cited a state law that requires “unclassified felonies and misdemeanors” to be considered as nonperson offenses for sentencing.
The state Supreme Court ruled in Murdock’s favor in May, a decision that essentially cut in half the 19-year sentence Murdock received in 2010.
Howe said the decision probably will have a bigger impact in counties that are close to state borders and he suggested prosecutors might seek to withdraw plea offers if the sentences they negotiated are no longer available.
“The end result is a lot of appeals are going to be filed,” Howe said.
State Rep. John Rubin, a Shawnee Republican who is vice chairman of the Joint Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice Oversight, said any changes state lawmakers would consider in sentencing guidelines likely wouldn’t be applied retroactively to those now in prison.
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