Kansas Death Penalty Held Unconstitutional
25. K.S.A. 21-4624(e) is unambiguous. Its express language was clearly intended to mandate the imposition of a death sentence when the existence of aggravating circumstances was not outweighed by any mitigating circumstances. The legislature chose this language over alternative wording recommended by the attorney general to avoid constitutional infirmity. As a result, the statute is unconstitutional on its face under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.
Clearly this isn't some grand victory, it's a fairly technical point that the legislature will undoubtedly change ASAP. Still, anything that keeps the state from wanton slaughter is for the best.
The Kansas City Star discusses the implications. It sounds like the Supreme Court will have to weigh in, since the prosecutor claims an identical Arizona statute was held to be constitutional.
That raises an interesting question for the legislature. Should they make the necessary changes, which would be fairly modest, or wait for the Supremos to resolve the issue. Kathleen Sebelius, our Democratic governor, would almost certainly sign any but the most egregious death penalty bill to hold onto her thin majority, so the Republican legislature could go pretty wild with the law along the way. But, if the Supremes hold that their Arizona precedent is binding, Sebelius could probably make a moral stand against revising the law again. But there are several death penalty cases in the works, so the legislature will almost surely look for a way to clarify the situation.
The court held that the “hard 40” sentencing law is constitutional, so anyone convicted of 1st degree murder will spend at least 40 years in jail. Not a slap on the wrist.
This will be interesting.