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February 10, 2017, Appellate Court Digests
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Kansas Court of Appeals – Civil

Griffin v. Bruffett
Pawnee District Court – Affirmed
No. 115,487 – February 10, 2017

Griffin has been involuntarily committed to the Larned State Hospital as a sexually violent predator since 2009. Although the State performed the statutorily required annual reviews during four of the six years of his confinement, there was no judicial review of that process as required by statute. In some years the report was sent to the district court but never placed in the court file, but in some years no report was ever completed. Consequently, Griffin filed a habeas corpus action claiming violations of his statutory and constitutional rights under the Kansas Sexually Violent Predator Act (KSVPA). He contends that once the State first failed to properly complete the annual review process in 2010 his confinement became illegal. Griffin believes that these injuries to his rights render his confinement illegal and he maintains that the only proper remedy is immediate release. The district court summarily denied Griffin's petition on grounds that any complaint about the 2010 commitment year was out of time and the tardiness was not excused by extraordinary circumstances.

ISSUE: Was it error to summarily dismiss Griffin's habeas corpus petition

Griffin was only entitled to relief if his petition alleged shocking and intolerable conduct or continuing mistreatment of a constitutional stature. Failure to follow statutory mandates reaches this level only if there is evidence of indifference by government actors to their statutory duties. Griffin met that burden for each of the 6 years challenged in his petition, but his claims are untimely for all but year 6 of his confinement. And Griffin failed to show manifest injustice to overcome the untimeliness of his petition. The petition was timely as to year 6, but Griffin explicitly waived any hearing for this annual review. Because of this waiver, and in the absence of any proof of ineffective assistance of counsel in creating the waiver, Griffin was not entitled to relief. Despite the fact that Griffin was not entitled to relief, the court was "deeply troubled" by the general lack of attention to the statutory safeguards present in the KSVPA.

CONCURRENCE (Atcheson, J.): The district court's summary dismissal should be upheld on grounds that Griffin failed to show any legal basis for the requested relief of full release.
STATUTE: K.S.A. 2015 Supp. 59-29a01(b), -29a06, -29a08, -29a08(c), -29a08(d), -29a08(e), -29a08(f), -29a08(g), -29a19, 60-1501, -1501(b), -1501(c)

Kansas Court of Appeals – Civil

Open Records
State v. Great Plains of Kiowa County, Inc.
Kiowa District Court – Affirmed
No. 115,932 – February 10, 2017

Great Plains of Kiowa County, Inc. (Great Plains) runs the Kiowa County Memorial Hospital. Under the terms of a lease agreement, if Great Plains determined that tax support was necessary to sustain the hospital's operations, it would advise a board of directors who would then request that an ad valorem tax be levied on property in the county. That process was used for tax years 2012 to 2014 and the money collected was used to support hospital operations. In 2014, the county served a request for information under the Kansas Open Records Act (KORA) on Great Plains and sought information about the hospital's budget and revenue. Great Plains denied the request on grounds that it was not a public agency subject to KORA. The county filed an action in district court to compel release of that information. That action was granted by the district court, which found that because Great Plains received mill tax levy funds it was a public agency. Great Plains appealed.

ISSUE: Is Great Plains a public agency subject to KORA?

The legislature intended for KORA to have a broad reach. In order to be excluded from KORA, requested records must be both privately owned and unrelated to activities funded by public funds. The focus is on the nature of the records rather than on the nature of the entity with custody of those records. Great Plains is the custodian of statutorily required financial records, and those records fall within the definition of public records. But the case had to be remanded to determine whether the requested documents were relevant to evaluating Great Plains' performance of its contract terms.

STATUTES: K.S.A. 2015 Supp. 19-4608(e), -4608(f), 45-217(e), -217(f)(1), -217(f)(2), -217(g)(1), -217(g)(2), 47-217(f)(1); K.S.A. 19-4603, -4605(a), -4605(c), -4611, -4612, 45-216(a), -218

Kansas Court of Appeals – Criminal

Constitution–Criminal Procedure–Evidence–Juries–Statutes
State v. Gonzalez-Sandoval
Lyon District Court – Reversed and remanded
No. 114,894 – February 10, 2017

Gonzalez-Sandoval was convicted of aggravated indecent liberties with a child. During jury selection he raised Batson challenge to State’s peremptory strike of one of three potential Hispanic jurors (T.R.). In response, State pointed to T.R.s avoidance of eye contact and failure to disclose that she was a witness in one case and that she was questioned during an investigation in another case. District court found eye contact reason insufficient, but denied the challenge based on the other two reasons. During trial, State admitted its discovery that the remaining two reasons were not factually correct, but offered that T.R. failed to disclose she was a witness in a third case. District court found Batson was still satisfied because the substituted reason was race-neutral. On appeal, Gonzalez-Sandoval claimed in part: (1) the trial court erroneously upheld the Batson challenge after State’s admission and substitution of a fourth reason for the strike; (2) the victim testimony of Gonzalez-Sandoval’s prior sexual misconduct was erroneously admitted under K.S.A. 2015 Supp. 60-455(d); and (3) insufficient evidence supported his conviction.

ISSUES: (1) Batson challenge, (2) evidence of prior sexual misconduct, (3) sufficiency of the evidence

Three-step Batson analysis was examined, with attention to Miller-El v. Dretke, 545 U.S. 231 (2005), and a Seventh Circuit case. When illegitimate grounds such as race or ethnicity are at issue, State must stand or fall on the initial reason(s) provided to the trial court for striking a minority venire member. Trial court is required to limit its inquiry to reason(s) originally offered by State during voire dire, and is barred from considering a substitute reason or other reason for striking the minority venire member. Batson procedure was violated in this case. The only surviving reason offered by State during voire dire was T.R.’s avoidance of eye contact, which district court found was not a valid race-neutral reason. Reversed and remanded for new trial. Court also criticizes prosecutor’s lack of specificity in questioning during voire dire, and failure to ask about the two cases it cited in responding to the Batson challenge.  

Here, victim evidence of Gonzalez-Sandoval’s prior sexual misconduct was material and highly probative, and no abuse of discretion in district court’s finding the probative value of the evidence outweighed the threat of prejudice. State’s absence of mistake argument was rejected because Gonzalez-Sandoval did not allege or argue he committed the crime charged by mistake.

Under facts in case, sufficient evidence supported Sandoval’s conviction.

DISSENT (Malone, J.):

Would find no reversible error in trial court’s overruling of the Batson challenge. Disagrees with majority’s reading of Miller-El and the Seventh Circuit case. Prosecutor’s reason for striking T.R. - because she did not respond to general questions about being involved as a witness in prior cases - remained the same and valid when prosecutor provided corrected information about the prior cases. Agrees that if State wanted to strike T.R. based on her failure disclose involvement as a witness in two prior cases, prosecutor should have specifically questioned T.R. during voir dire about her involvement in those cases, but notes the rejection of a similar argument in State v. Harris, 259 Kan. 689j (1996).

STATUTES: K.S.A. 2015 Supp. 21-5506(b)(3)(A), 60-455(d); K.S.A. 60-455