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. Garcia, 274 Kan. 708 (2002).
This case answers the following issue:
- What are the special sentencing guidelines for gang related crimes?
- What must be shown at the sentencing hearing to impose the special sentencing guidelines?
The pertinent issue in this case includes whether the district court erred in failing to make adequate findings on the record to support imposition of a prison term under K.S.A. 2001 Supp. 21-4704a(k). Id. at 708. The previously held rule that “other than the fact of a prior conviction, any fact that increases the penalty for a crime beyond the prescribed statutory maximum must be submitted to a jury, and proved beyond a reasonable doubt” is not applicable to a prison sentence imposed under K.S.A. 2001 Supp. 21-4704a(k). Id. at 708, 710. K.S.A. 2001 Supp. 21-4704a(k) provides that:
“[i]f it is shown at sentencing that the offender committed any felony violation for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with any criminal street gang, with the specific intent to promote, further or assist in any criminal conduct by gang members, the offender’s sentence shall be presumed imprisonment. Any decision made by the court regarding the imposition of the optional nonprison sentence shall not be considered a departure and shall not be subject to appeal. “
Id. at 710. When determining whether the provisions of K.S.A. 2001 Supp. 21-4704a(k) apply, a district court should consider: (1) where the crime was committed to benefit the gang, was committed at the direction of the gang, or was committed in association with the gang; (2) whether the defendant had the specific intent to promote, further, or assist in crimes by gang members; and (3) whether the gang involved qualifies as a “criminal street gang” based on the makeup of its members and their activities. Id. at 716. The definition of a criminal street gang is also provided in 21-4704a(k) as:
“any organization, association or group of three or more persons, whether formal or informal, having as one of its primary activities the commission of one or more person felonies or felony violations of the uniform controlled substances act … which has a common name or common identifying sign or symbol, whose members, individually or collectively engage in or have engaged in the commission, attempted commission, conspiracy to commit or solicitation of two or more person felonies or felony violations of the uniform controlled substances act … or any substantially similar offense from another jurisdiction.”
Id. In the current case, the appellant was charged with and pled no contest to aggravated battery and incitement to riot. Id. at 708. The sentencing guidelines called for presumptive probation for both offenses, however, the district court imposed a 16-month prison term for the aggravated battery conviction to run consecutive to an 8-month prison term for the incitement to riot conviction. Id. at 709. The appellant argues that the sentence was imposed erroneously because the judge failed to mention K.S.A. 2001 Supp. 21-4704a(k) nor made a specific finding that the crimes were committed “for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with any criminal street gang, with the specific intent to promote, further or assist in any criminal conduct by gang members.” Id. at 713. During the second sentencing hearing, the judge stated that the appellant’s house “has been a gang house … [i]t’s been the sitting of many drive-by shootings. The leadership of this LCC gang seems to have rested certainly in times with your family. It’s been an ongoing problem of violence within this community that has not yet abated.” Id. After making the previous statement, the judge subsequently ordered the sentence to be served at the Department of Corrections but failed to specifically state the reason for the sentence under K.S.A. 2001 Supp. 21-4704a(k). Id.
On appeal, the State argued that since the district court imposed a presumptive sentence, it was not required to make specific factual findings to support their decision. Id. at 715. This court notes that the argument by the State fails because it completely ignores the fact that the presumptive prison sentence arises only “if it is shown at sentencing” that the defendant committed the crime “for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with any criminal street gang, with the specific intent to promote, further or assist in any criminal conduct by gang members.” Id. at 715-16. Further, the court specifically finds that the language of the statue is an explicit statement of the requirement that a court must first find in order to trigger the presumptive prison sentence. Id. at 716. The court relies on the admission by the State that the district court never mentioned K.S.A. 2001 Supp. 21-4704a(k) at the second sentencing hearing. Id. In addition, the court found that at both sentencing hearings, the district court never found that the appellant’s crimes were committed “for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with any criminal street gang, with the specific intent to promote, further or assist in any criminal conduct by gang members”, nor did it make a finding that the gang in question met the definition of a criminal street gang. Id. at 716-17. This court, held that the district court erred by failing to make findings on the record that would be consistent with those outlined in K.S.A. 2001 Supp. 21-4704a(k), therefore, the appellant’s sentences were vacated. Id. at 717.