Kansas Supreme Court
IN RE ST. CLAIR TRUST REFORMATION
SEDGWICK DISTRICT COURT—AFFIRMED
NO. 120,050—JUNE 5, 2020
FACTS: Jill St. Clair executed a trust agreement in September 2003. St. Clair's husband, William, was named a life beneficiary of the trust's income. Upon his death, the trust's income would be distributed to Jill and William's children and grandchildren, with the principal eventually being distributed to the grandchildren or their estates. William had previously created his own trust with an identical distribution scheme. Both trusts were funded with identical amounts, and both trusts were prepared by the same attorney. Mr. Davidson drafted the trusts to make sure that the trust assets were not included in either William or Jill's taxable estates. At the time the trust was executed, Jill believed it contained the necessary provisions for the trust assets to be excluded from both taxable estates. Unfortunately, the trust contained a drafting error which resulted in the trusts becoming reciprocal, with the assets of Jill's trust being included in William's estate upon his demise, and vice versa. The trust as written did not accurately express Jill's intent. In order to correct the drafting error, Jill and her trustee petitioned the district court for an order reforming Jill's trust to include provisions which would prevent the trusts from becoming reciprocal. The proposed amendment was served on all beneficiaries, with no objection. The district court ordered that the trust be reformed to correct the scrivener's error.
ISSUE: (1) Whether trust should have been reformed
HELD: The district court's decision was appealed in order to satisfy the requirements of Commissioner v. Estate of Bosch, and the case was transferred from the Kansas Court of Appeals. The record on appeal shows that Jill and the trustee demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence that Jill's intent in creating and funding the trust was adversely affected by a drafting error, making it necessary to reform the trust. Reformation destroys the economic symmetry of the trusts, allowing the trust to be consistent with Jill's original intent. The reformation is affirmed.
STATUTES: K.S.A. 2018 Supp. 20-3017; K.S.A. 58a-415
state v. brown
cowley district court—affirmed; court of appeals—reversed
no. 115,817—june 5, 2020
FACTS: State charged Brown with attempted second-degree intentional murder. District court instructed jury on that charge and the lesser offense of attempted voluntary manslaughter. Verdict form returned by the jury, however, found “the defendant guilty of the lesser offense of attempted involuntary manslaughter as set forth in Instruction No. 7,” an instruction that referred to the correct crime of attempted voluntary manslaughter. This verdict inconsistency was not caught until sentencing, well after jury was discharged. District court sentenced Brown for the instructed crime, attempted voluntary manslaughter. Brown appealed. In unpublished opinion, Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for a new trial on that count, holding the written language of the verdict controlled and district court was powerless to deviate from its literal meaning. Panel in a strikingly similar case held the district court could reasonably interpret the verdict in light of the record. State v. Rice, (2011)(unpublished opinion). State’s petition for review granted to resolve this panel split.
ISSUE: Ambiguous verdict
HELD: Based on Kansas caselaw and persuasive decisions from other jurisdictions, general approach in Rice is correct. Lower court’s decision is reversed with caution. An ambiguous verdict can be reasonably interpreted in light of the charging document, jury instructions, and record as a whole to determine and give effect to jury’s intent. When such intent is clear, a mistaken description of the crime of conviction contained in the verdict form may be discarded as surplusage when the verdict form also refers to the correct charge by pointing back to the charging document or the jury instruction. The strong presumption in favor of the literal text of the jury verdict as the surest guide to jury’s intentions can only be overcome when the record as a whole clearly demonstrates a different intent and district court is convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that portions of the verdict text are inconsistent with that intent. An appellate court’s review of a district court’s application of the surplusage rule is de novo. In this case, district court did not err when it discarded the “in-“ prefix from the verdict form as mere surplusage.
STATUTE: K.S.A. 22-3421
state v. hachmeister
shawnee district court—affirmed
no. 114,796—june 5, 2020
FACTS: Hachmeister was convicted of premeditated murder for killing his mother. On appeal he claimed the district court abused its discretion by admitting evidence under K.S.A. 60-455 of mother thinking that Hachmeister had stolen her wedding ring, and of child pornography found on Hachmeister’s computer and the charges associated with that possession. He also claimed eight instances of error during prosecutor’s closing argument.
ISSUES: (1) K.S.A. 60-455 evidence; (2) prosecutorial error
HELD: No error in district court’s admission of the 60-455 evidence. Probative value of the wedding ring evidence substantially outweighed any prejudice where the confrontation surrounding the missing wedding ring was key evidence of motive. And evidence of child pornography on Hachmeister’s computer and charges for possessing this porn was extremely probative in identifying Hachmeister as author of anonymous letters written by the “real killer.”
Each allegation of prosecutorial error is examined finding only one error. Prosecutor’s comment that victim “could breathe just fine” exceeded the prosecutor’s ability to draw inferences from the evidence. This error was harmless in light of the trial as a whole and the overwhelming evidence against Hachmeister..
STATUTES: K.S.A. 2019 Supp. 60-455(b)