Archive for Saturday, March 25, 2006

Kansas death penalty case back in court

March 25, 2006


— The U.S. Supreme Court's decision to rehear arguments before ruling on the constitutionality of a Kansas death penalty law pleased some officials who think that might increase its chances of being upheld after it was struck down by the state's highest court.

The justices announced their decision Friday, apparently so new Justice Samuel Alito can break a tie. He replaced Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who was on the court when it first heard the case in December.

O'Connor was a swing vote in death penalty cases, sometimes joining the four more liberal members in throwing out death sentences.

The 1994 law says if the evidence for and against imposing a death sentence is equal, Kansas juries must impose death instead of life in prison. The state Supreme Court struck it down, invalidating the death sentences of six convicted killers.

The ruling involved the case of Michael Marsh II, sentenced to death for killing a woman and her 19-month-old daughter in 1996.

"I'm pleased that the United States Supreme Court has agreed to rehear arguments in the Marsh case," Atty. Gen. Phill Kline said. "This is not unexpected, due to recent changes in the court."

In his arguments before the justices, Kline said the law meets constitutional standards as long as it allows a jury to consider mitigating factors. He plans to reargue the case.

House Speaker Doug Mays called the court's decision "a good sign for the people of Kansas."

"This means the new court will hear it, and it increases the likelihood they will reinstate the death penalty," said Mays, R-Topeka.

If the justices agree the death penalty law is unconstitutional, Mays said, the Legislature would replace it with a new one because "the sentiment is still pretty strong in the chamber and pretty strong with the public."

Rehearing a case is seen as rare except when the court's makeup changes while a case is pending. The Kansas case is the second one that deadlocked the court following O'Connor's retirement in late January. The other case involves government whistleblowers.

No date has been set for the rehearing, although it could be in April. In the whistleblowers case, the court announced Feb. 17 there would be a rehearing, and a month later it heard arguments.

Donna Schneweis of the Kansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty welcomed the rehearing.

"It is a serious matter in a death penalty case when the factors for life are equal to the factors calling for death," she said.

An indication the court was deadlocked was that it ordered the same arguments presented and didn't request additional briefs.

Sen. John Vratil said it was hard to predict what the justices might ultimately decide.

"It's not just an up-or-down situation," said Vratil, R-Leawood. "There's a multitude of things they could do."

But he added, "From what I know about Justice Alito, it enhances the chances of the court overruling the Kansas Supreme Court."


Jamesaust 12 years, 3 months ago

One would have thought that if there was a 4-4 tie that a re-hearing would have been scheduled before this. It is also possible that before there was a 5-3 decision in one direction or the other and that while draft opinions were circulating that one justice changed their mind.

Also, remember that the Court may in fact not decide the matter on its merits. The Court could deny ruling because either: (a) they do not view the case as being an appeal of a final determination since there remain state hearings to finalize the case, or (b) they view that the matter has been settled as a matter of the Kansas Constitution (vs. the U.S. Constitution).

There also is the state vs. federal distinction regarding severability. The Kansas Supreme Court chose that the questionable aspect of sentencing in the Kansas law (that a 'tie' default to a death sentence versus the other way) was not a separate issue from the death penalty law itself and so struck down the entire death penalty law. Whether a provision is severable is a matter of state law and so is not reviewable by the U.S. Supreme Court. What is reviewable is the justification for that severabiltiy decision - that the state law violates the eight amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The upshot of this is that if the USSC were to disagree with the KSSC and find that this provision does not violate the eight amendment, the Kanasas courts could decide that the sentencing provision was in fact severable with the consequence that the constitutionality of the Kansas statute is restored minus the 'tie' provision, which is relevant only to the original criminal case not the one being appealed here. (Presumably, the Legislature would act to remove the 'tie=death' provison.) It is that outcome that would be of most interest to Kansans as it would restore the death penalty to those already convicted where there was no 'tie' issue, which is the outcome in all but the one case.

xenophonschild 12 years, 3 months ago

As I noted before, the Chinese have a much more efficacious way of dealing with capital offenders. After their conviction, they are led out behind the courthouse, made to kneel, and are then shot in the back of the head. Their families are then charged for the cost of the bullet. Seems like an appropriate response to crime to me.

shanefivedyes 12 years, 3 months ago

If that were the case here Xenophonschild you would not be here on this forum.

Ember 12 years, 3 months ago

If you commit an act so heinous that the death penalty is truly an option, why should the state be forced, via tax payer monies, to keep these wastes of oxygen alive any longer than it takes to fry them?

I mean, honestly, we've got millions of people in this country either not meeting, or barely meeting, the needed nutritional requirements, but we sure do have a duty to preserve the life of a multiple time killer.

Take them out, hang them and use the food to feed the hungry.

Less people in prison means less guards needed to watch over them. Few guards means less money the state has to pay these people.

Not paying for the food for 30+ years, including medical costs, plus the salaries of a few dozen guards, sounds like a good enough reaosn to to turn these f*cktards into pinatas and use the 3 hots and a cot for the those that could actually use it, not just spongue it off of those of us who work for a living and never break any major laws.

tkofsa 12 years, 3 months ago

the sad part is the courts sometimes forget their roles when the nation started it ws to be three coequal branches not one more powerful than the other thomas jefferson feared the courts would get out of control as they have gotten just that

Wilbur_Nether 12 years, 3 months ago

Odd--I don't remember reading that about Jefferson. Can you provide a citation?

Commenting has been disabled for this item.