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January 15, 2016, Appellate Court Digests
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Kansas Supreme Court – Criminal

State v. Hernandez
Sedgwick District Court – Reversed and remanded
Court of Appeals – Reversed
No. 108,684 – January 15, 2016

FACTS: Hernandez convicted in 2003 of rape, aggravated criminal sodomy, and aggravated battery of 13-year-old daughter. In unpublished opinions, court of appeals affirmed the convictions, and the denial of Hernandez’ K.S.A. 60-1507 motion. Hernandez filed 2011 motion under K.S.A. 21-2512 for post-conviction forensic DNA testing of evidence still in custody of Wichita Police Department. Following appointment of counsel and non-evidentiary hearing, district court denied the motion. Hernandez appealed, arguing district court erred in denying motion to test bedding of Hernandez and victim. Court of appeals affirmed in unpublished opinion. Review granted.

ISSUE: Post-conviction DNA Testing Under K.S.A. 21-2512

HELD: K.S.A. 21-2512 lays out three initial steps district court is to follow when a qualified inmate requests DNA testing on biological material. At issue in this case is the third step in K.S.A. 21-2512(c) which requires court to order DNA testing upon a determination that testing may produce noncumulative, exculpatory evidence relevant to petitioner’s claim of wrongful conviction or sentence. Under facts of this case, district court applied incorrect legal standard as set forth in State v. Lackey, 295 Kan. 816 (2012), and Bruner v. State, 277 Kan. 603 (2004), by requiring that DNA had to have been proffered by State at trial, and requiring petitioner to make specific allegations as to how DNA testing would provide noncumulative exculpatory evidence. Evidence can be exculpatory without being exonerating, and determination of whether there is a substantial question of innocence is not a precursor to ordering testing in the first place. Impact of evidence on the jury verdict is to be addressed in K.S.A. 21-2512(f) after test results are obtained. Court of appeals is reversed. District court is reversed and case is remanded.

STATUTE: K.S.A. 21-2512, -2512(a), -2512(c), -2512(f)(1)(A), -2512(f)(2)(A), -2512(f)(2)(B), -2512(f)(3), 60-1507­

State v. Seacat
Shawnee District Court – Affirmed
110,360 – January 15, 2016

FACTS: A jury found Brett T. Seacat shot his wife in the head and then set fire to his house with her in it. He was convicted of one count of first-degree premeditated murder, one count of aggravated arson, and two counts of aggravated endangerment of a child. All of Seacat's issues go to the evidence that the district court allowed the jury to hear—the admission of certain testimony by witnesses for the State and the exclusion of certain evidence proffered by Seacat.

ISSUES: Admission of evidence

HELD: First, Seacat challenges the admissibility of several out-of-court statements made by his wife to friends and coworkers. Court held that evidence of prior crimes or civil wrongs permitted under K.S.A. 60-455(b) must still pass the K.S.A. 60-460 requirements for admissibility if the evidence also qualifies as hearsay. Court found the fact that the wife made the statements about death threats and was subsequently found dead in a burning house suggests either that she was telling the truth about the threats, or that she was a supremely scheming and vindictive suicide victim who chose nevertheless to leave a suicide note absolving her husband of murder. Court also found the State met the requirements of recent perception and a fresh memory by the witness, and did not abuse its discretion in admitting the evidence. The next three issues challenge the trial court’s exclusion of evidence relating to his wife’s putative depression and suicide attempts or ideations, which Seacat contends would have bolstered his theory that she took her own life. Court found no abuse of discretion in excluding the evidence because her mental condition was not at issue, the causation of her hormone use and medication lacked foundation, and her alleged marijuana use lacked any probative value. A fifth issue related to an answer that a witness gave on direct examination, which Seacat contends was nonresponsive and prejudicial. Court found the witness’ testimony that Seacat was a narcissist was not to prove his guilt, but to explain his wife’s emotional reaction and the evidence was elicited by Seacat’s attorney. Court also found no prejudice to Seacat’s right to a fair trial.

CONCURRENCE: Justice Johnson concurred but wrote separately to clarify on the hearsay evidence as a question or a statement, and also that the wife's suicidal attempts or ideations were relevant to Seacat's defense and should have been admitted, but inclusion of the evidence would not have changed the outcome of the trial. Justice Luckert joined the concurring opinion.

STATUTE: K.S.A. 60-401, -447, -455, -460

Kansas Court of Appeals – Criminal

State v. Wallin
Ottawa District Court – Affirmed
No. 111,332 – January 15, 2016

FACTS: Wallin convicted of rape, aggravated criminal sodomy, and aggravated sexual battery of adult victim with developmental disabilities. On appeal Wallin challenged sufficiency of the evidence, specifically claiming there was insufficient evidence to prove victim was medically incapable of giving consent to sexual acts due to mental deficiency or disease because State did not present any expert medical testimony. Wallin also claimed district court erred in providing jury, after closing arguments and prior to evening recess, an Allen-type instruction on juror misconduct.

ISSUES: (1) Sufficiency of the evidence, (2) instruction on juror misconduct

HELD: Depending on facts of the case, to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the crimes of rape, aggravated criminal sodomy, and aggravated sexual battery, the victim’s incapacity to give consent because of mental deficiency or disease may be established without expert testimony. State v. Juarez, 19 Kan.App.2d 37 (1993), is examined. Under facts of this case, evidence was sufficient, without expert testimony, to convince a rational factfinder that the victim did not have capacity to give consent.

While it is better practice to instruct jury at beginning of trial regarding cost and inconvenience of mistrial due to jury misconduct (PIK Civ. 4th 101.12), under State v. Tahah, 302 Kan. 783 (2015), and facts of this case, district court did not err in providing a similar instruction after closing arguments and prior to recessing for the night. Even assuming timing of the admonishment was error, it would be harmless in this case.

CONCURRENCE (Mott, J.): Agrees with majority’s analysis and application of State v.Tahah to facts of this case. Writes separately to express view that admonishment given to jury prior to being excused for the evening was accurate and proper, regardless of the timing. Kansas Supreme Court’s jurisprudence regarding Allen instructions is discussed. Argues the expense of a trial is a proper consideration for any juror when deciding whether to follow court’s admonitions not to look for outside information, which is a far cry from improper instructions that encourage jurors to consider expense of another trial as a factor in whether they vote guilty or not guilty. 

STATUTES: K.S.A. 2014 Supp. 21-5503(a)(2), -5504(b)(3)(C), -5505(b)(3), 60-456; K.S.A. 22-3437