CAN A SENTENCE BE LONGER IF THE CRIME WAS COMMITTED IN A PARTICULARLY BRUTAL MANNER?
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. Jackson, 936 P.2d 761 (Kan. 1997).
This case addresses the following issue:
Can a sentence be increased in duration if the crime was committed in a particularly brutal manner?
This case explored the issue of whether a sentence can be increased in duration if the crime was committed in a particularly brutal manner. In exploring this issue, the court concluded that excessive brutality constituted a substantial and compelling reason for an increased sentence. Id. at 775.
On April 8, 1994, the defendant visited a nightclub. Id. at 766. While at the nightclub, the defendant approached two women, made comments of a sexual nature to the women, and tried to pick them up. Id. After an announcement that the bar was closing, the defendant lingered at the bar and attempted to persuade the women to leave with him. Id. When the bouncer told the defendant it was time to leave, the defendant refused and struck the bouncer. Id. After the bouncer was struck, a customer of the club intervened to assist and the defendant pulled out a black automatic pistol and shot the bouncer in the chest and arm. Id. The defendant then shot the customer in the right side. Id. After the disc jockey saw the events unfolding, he approached the bouncer and the defendant shot him twice in the face. Id. The defendant then shot the disc jockey another three times and yelled profanity while straddling him. Id. While another customer tried to escape out the door, the defendant shot him in the thigh. Id. Eventually, the defendant left the nightclub and fled to a nearby friend’s house. Id. After the defendant fell asleep in the friend’s house, the friend called the police and the defendant was arrested. Id. In all, the defendant was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder, one count of voluntary manslaughter, two counts of aggravated battery, one count of unlawful possession of a firearm, one count of criminal damage to property, and one count of criminal trespass. Id. at 767. In addition, the trial court increased the defendant’s sentence because the defendant’s conduct during the commission of voluntary manslaughter displayed excessive brutality to the victim in a manner not normally present in the offense. Id. at 773.
The defendant argued that the trial court erred in imposing an upward durational departure sentence (increased sentence) because the trial court never expressed how the defendant displayed excessive brutality in a manner not normally present in voluntary manslaughter or the substantial and compelling reasons for the increased sentence. Id. The court noted that the finding of excessive brutality allowed a court to depart from the defendant’s presumed sentence by up to two times the maximum normal imprisonment term. Id. at 775.
In the defendant’s case, the court found that the defendant shooting the customer who was trying to come to the rescue of the bouncer was excessively brutal. Id. Therefore, the defendant’s argument that the trial court never expressed how the defendant displayed excessive brutality was without merit. Id.
According to the court, the Kansas law making body made it clear that excessive brutality was an aggravating factor which may be considered in determining whether substantial and compelling reasons existed for an increased sentence. Id. Further, the court stated that they had previously determined that excessive brutality alone may constitute a substantial and compelling reason for an increased sentence. Id. So, the court disproved the defendant’s argument that there was not a substantial and compelling reason for the increased sentence. Id.
In sum, the trial court was justified in increasing the sentence because the defendant’s conduct during the commission of the offense displayed excessive brutality to the victim in a manner not normally present in the offense. Id.