CONVICTING A DRUNK DRIVER OF AGGRAVATED BATTERY IN KANSAS
Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.
State v. Barajas, 2010, 230 P.3d 784, 43 Kan.App.2d 639.
This case addresses the following issue:
What level of conduct is required to convict a drunk driver of aggravated battery in Kansas?
“Miguel Barajas appeals from the sentences imposed following his convictions of aggravated robbery and attempted aggravated robbery. He claims the district court erred in classifying his California conviction for driving under the influence (DUI) causing bodily injury, Cal. Vehicle Code § 23153 (b) (West 2000), as a person felony based on a determination that it was comparable to the Kansas offense of aggravated battery, K.S.A. 21–3414.” Id. at 786.
Barajas pleaded guilty in both cases pursuant to plea agreements with the State. “Prior to sentencing, Barajas filed three written objections to his criminal history worksheet, challenging (1) the classification of his California conviction for DUI causing bodily injury as a person felony, (2) the validity of his California conviction, and (3) the use of his conviction in case No. 07CR2397 as a prior conviction for sentencing in case No. 07CR2415.” Id. at 787.
The district court sustained Barajas’ objection to the use of his conviction in case No. 07CR2397 as a prior conviction for sentencing in case No. 07CR2415, noting that the cases had been consolidated. Id. Further, based on its finding that the California conviction was a valid conviction obtained against Barajas, the district court included the DUI conviction in Barajas’ criminal history. Id. Finally, the court determined the California crime of DUI causing bodily injury was comparable to the Kansas crime of aggravated battery and classified the California conviction as a person felony. Id. “Pursuant to the plea agreements, the court granted a durational departure and imposed a sentence of 69 months’ imprisonment for the aggravated robbery and a concurrent sentence of 50 months’ imprisonment for the attempted aggravated robbery.” Id. Defendant appealed the district court’s classification of his criminal history.
The plain language of K.S.A. 21–4711(e) requires the sentencing court to consider whether Kansas has an offense comparable to the out-of-state crime when determining whether an out-of-state conviction should be classified as a person felony. Id. at 788.
A comparable offense need not contain elements identical to those of the out-of-state crime, Vandervort, 276 Kan. at 179, 72 P.3d 925, but must be similar in nature and cover a similar type of criminal conduct. State v. Schultz, 22 Kan.App.2d 60, 62, 911 P.2d 1119 (1996). If Kansas has no comparable offense, the sentencing court must classify the out-of-state conviction as a nonperson felony. K.S.A. 21–4711(e). Id.
In Kansas, “a drunk driver who unintentionally causes bodily harm or great bodily harm can be charged with aggravated battery under K.S.A. 21–3414. However, the State is required to establish evidence of reckless conduct beyond simply driving under the influence of alcohol.” Id. at 790. “Unlike K.S.A. 21–3412 or K.S.A. 21–3414, Cal. Vehicle Code § 23153(b) does not require proof of reckless or intentional conduct. Instead, the elements of felony DUI are satisfied if the State presents evidence of a specific blood alcohol level, evidence of ordinary negligence, and evidence that the defendant’s negligence proximately caused injury to a person other than the driver. Weems, 54 Cal.App.4th at 858, 62 Cal.Rptr.2d 903; Cal. Veh.Code § 23153(b).” Id. at 789.
This Court concluded that while Barajas’ California’s offense of DUI causing bodily injury and Kansas’ offense of aggravated battery similarly require bodily injury to another person, but the offenses do not cover similar types of conduct and are not comparable offenses. Id. California’s offense of DUI causing bodily injury is unlike Kansas’ aggravated battery statute because it includes a very specific causation requirement not required to establish aggravated battery, i.e., that the defendant drive while legally intoxicated and concurrently neglect to perform a duty required by law, which failure results in injury to another person. Id. Further, Kansas’ aggravated battery statute is unlike California’s offense of DUI causing bodily injury because it requires reckless or intentional conduct, while California’s offense requires only general negligence. Id
Because the district court erred in finding the two crimes comparable and in classifying Barajas’ California conviction as a person felony, this Court vacates Barajas’ sentences and remand to the district court for resentencing. Id. at 787.