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. Crawford, 21 Kan. App. 2d 859 (1995).
This case addresses the following issues:
- Can a court grant a departure sentence for the sole reason that a defendant has young children to raise at home?
- Can a court consider a totality of circumstances when deciding whether or not to grant a downward departure sentence?
- What is the appellate review standard for a decision by a trial court to issue a downward departure sentence?
The issue in this case included whether the trial court committed err when taking into account numerous factors – including the fact that the defendant had young children to raise – when considering whether or not to grant a motion for a downward departure sentence. Id. at 860. When determining if a trial court erred in granting a durational departure, the appellate court is to implement a two-pronged review. Id. The first prong is an evidentiary test, ultimately to decide whether the facts used to justify the departure were supported by substantial competent evidence. Id. at 860-61. The second test is a law test, where the appellate court is to determine whether, as a matter of law, the reasons stated by the trial court are “substantial and compelling” reasons for departure. Id.
In this case, the defendant and her husband were both convicted of possession of methamphetamine and possession of methamphetamine without tax stamps affixed. Id. at 859. Due to the defendant’s criminal history score, her presumptive sentence was 51 to 57 months. Id. The defendant made a motion for a downward departure, and the trial court granted the motion, instilling a sentence of 18 months in prison, and 24 moths’ post release supervision. Id. at 859-860. The trial court noted the following reasons for granting the departure: (1) her age (maturing so she was less likely to commit crimes), (2) her family (noting her three children), (3) her “impressive” employment record, (4) her substantial rehabilitative efforts, and (5) her codefendant’s sentence of probation. Id. at 861. The state subsequently appealed the decision to grant the downward departure . Id. at 860. The appellate court stated, without discussion, that the facts used by the trial court to justify the downward departure were supported by competent evidence; satisfying the first prong of the appeal. Id. at 861. The next determination to be made by the appellate court included if the reasons stated by the trial court were “substantial and compelling” reasons for departure. Id. The appellate court ultimately upheld the decision by the trial court but urged that it did so due to the totality of circumstances together justified the departure. Id. The appellate court made it a specific point to note that any one of the factors, standing alone, would not justify a downward departure, but when “considered in their totality, they are substantial and compelling.” Id. at 861.