CAN DOMESTIC BATTERY BE DESIGNATED AS THE PRIMARY CRIME FOR THE PURPOSE OF APPLYING A CRIMINAL HISTORY SCORE TO CALCULATE A DEFENDANT’S SENTENCE?
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. Fowler, 408 P.3d 119 (Kan. Ct. App. 2017).
This case addresses the following issue:
Can domestic battery be designated as the primary crime for the purpose of applying a criminal history score to calculate a defendant’s sentence?
This case explored the issue of whether domestic battery could be designated as the primary crime for the purpose of applying a criminal history score to calculate a defendant’s sentence. In exploring this issue, the court held domestic battery could not be designated as the primary crime for the purpose of applying a criminal history score to calculate a defendant’s sentence. Id. at 125.
In order to fully understand this case and the court’s reasoning, the following background information is needed. Under the Kansas Sentencing Guidelines Act (KSGA), criminal sentences for felony convictions are based on two controlling factors: (1) the criminal history of the defendant; and (2) the severity level of the crime committed. Id. at 123. In general, the severity levels for felony offenses are ranked from 1 through 10, with 1 being the most severe felony. Id. Furthermore, a defendant’s criminal history score is calculated by tabulating the offender’s prior convictions, with category A being the highest and I being the lowest. Id. Additionally, when a defendant has multiple convictions, the sentencing judge has to determine the base sentence for the primary crime (primary crime is the crime with the highest severity level). Id. After determining the primary crime, the base sentence is then determined by applying a defendant’s total criminal history to the primary crime. Id.
In this case, the defendant pled guilty to felony domestic battery, felony possession of methamphetamine, and misdemeanor violation of a protective order. Id. at 121. On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court imposed an illegal sentence when it used two of his prior misdemeanor domestic battery convictions to elevate his current domestic battery conviction from a misdemeanor to a felony. Id. at 122. Moreover, the defendant argued this elevation to the felony domestic battery conviction increased his criminal history score from C to B. Id. In defending his argument, the defendant noted that the KSGA prohibited the trial court from counting prior convictions both to elevate the current crime of conviction from a misdemeanor to a felony and to increase his overall criminal history score. Id.
On appeal, the Court of Appeals of Kansas stated that the crime of domestic battery had its own sentencing scheme outside of the KSGA. Id. at 125. With this in mind, since domestic battery was unrelated to the KSGA, the court specified that domestic battery could not be designated as a primary crime for the purpose of applying a criminal history score to calculate a defendant’s sentence. Id. In the defendant’s case, the trial court chose the defendant’s conviction for possession of methamphetamine as the primary crime of conviction. Id. Therefore, the court held that the defendant’s criminal history score of B was correctly used because the defendant’s two prior domestic battery convictions were not used to elevate the classification of the primary crime. Id.
In conclusion, since domestic battery has its own independent sentencing scheme and does not adhere to the KSGA, it cannot be used as the primary crime when determining a defendant’s sentence. Id.