The Kansas State Legislature will begin a special session Tuesday to revise Kansas’ hard 50 law.
This law allows judges to impose a minimum sentence of 50 years in certain murder cases. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June mandatory minimum sentences must be given by juries.
While cases that might trigger a hard 50 sentence are rare in McPherson County, Clark Shultz, representative for McPherson, Lindsborg, Canton and Galva, said people should be aware of changes in the law.
A legislative committee has rewritten the law so juries, not judges, will determine whether a defendant should receive a hard 50 sentence. Shultz said this is determined by a jury after a defendant has been convicted and takes into account aggravating factors, such as stalking or torture.
“We want to do everything to make sure the hard 50 can be imposed where it needs to be,” Shultz said.
Richard Walker is the chief judge for Kansas’ Ninth District, which covers McPherson and Harvey counties. He said while he’s never had a case in which the hard 50 law would apply, he supports it in principle.
“I have no problem with the law, but juries should make that decision,” Walker said.
Walker said he agrees the law needs to be rewritten.
“It’s certainly unconstitutional right now as the Supreme Court has decided to interpret the law,” Walker said.
Shultz said lawmakers hope to make the revision retroactive. This means a person who was arrested prior to the law’s revision but tried after the revision would be subject to the new law rather than the old.
Shultz said this point is controversial, because people would be subject to a law didn’t exist when he or she committed the crime.
“A defense attorney would probably challenge it,” Shultz said.
However, Shultz said legislators want to make sure there’s no gap in which convicted murderers can get a lighter sentence than the hard 50 if the person deserves a 50-year minimum sentence.
“There are people that aren’t happy that there could be a gap where they can’t have the sentence, when the legislature clearly wants it to be an option,” Shultz said. “Legislators have a sentence for these hard cases, and I think people want that, too.”
Contact Josh Arnett by email at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @ArnettSentinel.