Court Reverses Conviction Despite Finding ‘Errors’ Alone Not Sufficient for Reversal.
Writing for a unanimous Court, Justice Carol Beier stated that cumulative trial errors required the reversal of the conviction of Raul Manuel Magallanez for multiple counts of child abuse. Magallanez was convicted by a jury of abusing three children, ages 13, 14 and 15 over a period of several months, often times plying the children with marijuana and alcohol. Magallanez was 31 years old at the time of the molestations. He received a sentence of more than 75 years in prison, however, the Supreme Court’s decision sets aside the conviction, the sentence and requires a new trial and conviction if Magallanez is to serve any time.
The Court found the following comments by the prosecutor in the case, combined with what the Supreme Court called a faulty jury instruction and an evidence ruling in the case to require a new trial:
- In closing argument the prosecutor referenced that “we, as adults, trust children.” The Supreme Court found this to be an impermissible comment on the credibility of a witness.
- The prosecutor, according to the Court, improperly stated that if a juror believed the defendant to be guilty then “you are beyond reasonable doubt.” The Court found this to be an improper statement.
Further, the Court took issue with the following:
- The Jury was given what is commonly referred to as an “Allen” instruction. The instruction encourages jurors to reach a unanimous verdict and states that a retrial “will be a burden on both sides.” The Court found this to be improper although the model instruction given was recently a part of the PIK (Pattern Instructions of Kansas) official guidelines.
- At trial, the judge denied defense efforts to have a full letter read into the record. The letter, between a child victim and the defendant, was written by the victim. In the letter, the victim speaks about their sexual relationship and at one point mentions that she was not a virgin at the time she met the defendant. The Supreme Court ruled that the defense should have been able to use the letter to impeach the victim’s credibility.
Although the Court ruled that none of the errors alone require reversal, the Court found that the errors cumulatively mandated a new trial in all three cases despite compelling evidence of guilt. This means that the victims will be required to testify again.
The Court is under increasing criticism for a constantly changing interpretation of Kansas statutes and the Kansas Constitution. Some have said the only consistency with the Court is its constant march towards a judicial rewrite of Kansas law and its consistent criticism of prosecutors and law enforcement.
The State of Kansas has the most closed method of judicial selection in the nation with those with a vested monetary and/or political interest selecting the justices for a lifetime appointment. Members of the Kansas Bar and the Governor appoint a nominating committee that meets behind closed doors, selects three persons of which the Governor selects one who receives a life appointment without any confirmation requirement.
The Justices are voted on every four years in a “retention” election – meaning that they do not have any opponents on the ballet. Such elections are almost impossible to lose resulting in a life appointment without scrutiny. Some are discussing attempting to change the selection method but such changes would require a constitutional amendment.
Currently, a majority of the Court has been appointed by former Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius. The Sebelius Court effectively rewrote the state system of financing public education ordering hundreds of millions of dollars into education; struck down the death penalty (a decision reversed by the US Supreme Court); has handed down numerous decisions critical of prosecutors reversing numerous convictions and creating wholly new standards; been criticized on its ethics for ex parte meetings with parties interested in litigation before the Court among other criticisms.
The Court is strongly supported by the state’s media and as a result most Kansans are not aware of the scope or nature of the Court’s decisions. It is too early to determine whether meaningful judicial reform is possible in Kansas.
To read the Court’s decision in Kansas v. Magallanez click here….