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. Skillern, 288 P.3d 147 (Kan. Ct. App. 2012).
This case addresses the following issue:
Must a first-time offender convicted of class B misdemeanor domestic battery be required to serve a minimum of 48 hours in custody before being granted probation?
This case explored the issue of whether a defendant convicted of a class B misdemeanor domestic battery (first time offender) was required to serve a minimum of 48 hours in prison before being granted probation (period of supervision instead of serving prison time). In exploring this issue, the court held that a first-time offender of domestic battery was not required to serve 48 hours in prison before being granted probation. Id. at 148.
In this case, the defendant and her boyfriend were involved in a heated argument and the defendant slapped him in the face. Id. As a result, the defendant pled guilty to and was convicted of one count of domestic battery, a class B misdemeanor. Id. Furthermore, it was the defendant’s first conviction of domestic battery. Id. At trial, the court looked to the Kansas statute on domestic battery in determining the defendant’s sentencing and concluded that she had to serve 48 hours in prison before being granted probation. Id.
On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court erred in determining that the Kansas statute required her to serve 48 hours in prison before being placed on probation. Id. at 148-49. In defending her argument, the defendant quoted the applicable part of the Kansas statute which read, “Domestic battery is a class B misdemeanor and the offender shall be sentenced to not less than 48 hours.” Id. at 148. According to the defendant, the statute required only that she be sentenced to at least 48 hours imprisonment, not necessarily that she had to serve the 48 hours. Id. Additionally, the defendant noted that the two other subsections within the domestic battery statute directly stated how long a defendant had to spend in prison before probation was granted. Id. For example, in the class A misdemeanor domestic battery subsection, the offender had to serve at least five consecutive days imprisonment before being granted probation. Id. Furthermore, in the felony domestic battery subsection, the offender was not eligible for release on probation. Id. According to the defendant, if the legislature (group of people who wrote the statute) directly addressed how long an offender had to spend in prison in the other two instances, they would have directly addressed that point in the class B misdemeanor domestic battery subsection. Id. Since the legislature did not address this point, the defendant contended that the statute should not be read as requiring 48 hours in prison before being granted probation. Id.
In responding to the defendant’s arguments, the Court of Appeals of Kansas found the arguments persuasive. Id. at 150. The court acknowledged that there was no provision in the statute that the defendant actually had to serve the 48 hours in prison. Id. Moreover, the court mentioned that their decision was influenced by the legislature directly addressing in the other two subsections (class A misdemeanor and felony) how long an offender had to spend in prison before being granted probation. Id.
In conclusion, the court held that a first-time offender convicted of class B misdemeanor domestic battery was not required to spend 48 hours in prison before being granted probation. Id.