WHAT “STANDARD” MUST A JUDGE FOLLOW WHEN DETERMINING WHETHER TO GRANT A MOTION FOR A DEPARTURE FROM THE SENTENCING GUIDELINES?
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. Bolden, 132 P.3d 981 (Kan. Ct. App. 2006).
This case answers the following question:
What “standard” must a judge follow when determining whether to grant a motion for a departure from the sentencing guidelines?
The issue in this case is whether the defendant’s amenability to rehabilitation can be considered a substantial and compelling reason to depart from the presumptive sentence. Kansas state law requires the sentencing court to impose the presumptive sentence under the sentencing guidelines unless the court finds substantial and compelling reasons to grant a departure.
In this case, Bolden was convicted of two counts of aggravated battery and other related charges. She was charged with two counts of aggravated battery, two counts of aggravated assault, one count of criminal damage to property, one count of violation of a protection order, and one count of reckless driving. These charges came from an incident involving Bolden’s husband and his girlfriend. Bolden drove her car into the side of another car, pushed it off the road, and then hit it again from behind. Bolden’s husband and his girlfriend were in the car that was struck by Bolden.
Kansas state law requires the sentencing court to impose the presumptive sentence under the sentencing guidelines unless the court finds substantial and compelling reasons to grant a departure. It is not required that all of the reasons given by the sentencing court be substantial and compelling as long as at least one of the reasons is substantial and compelling. In this case, the appellate court looked at the various reasons the trial court had given for its departure from the presumptive sentence. These factors included the victims’ behavior, effects on the children, anger control, and reformation.
Under the circumstances, the judge reasoned that it was not unexpected that somebody may lose control, however, not to the extent that Bolden did. A reasonable person would be upset to learn that their spouse is being unfaithful, but this does not give that person the right to assault and batter the unfaithful spouse. The court also noted that neither the husband or his girlfriend were aggressors in the situation. For these reasons, the court found that the victims’ behavior in this case was not a substantial and compelling reason for departure.
Due to the husband’s infidelity in this case, Bolden was left responsible for their three children. In particular, the youngest was suffering a regression in his childhood development due to his father’s absence. Further, Bolden was diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Personality disorder, and this trait is genetic, therefore Bolden argued that there was a risk the children would have it. The court held that the fact that Bolden was raising the children by herself was a legitimate basis for a departure sentence.
During the process of the trial, Bolden underwent a psychological evaluation, and the doctor who conducted the evaluation recommended specific counseling for Bolden, including a domestic violence class and an anger management class. The doctor believed that these classes would help Bolden control her anger and aggression; Bolden testified at the sentencing hearing that she believed the counseling she had received so far had been helpful. The court found that the fact that Bolden was seeking help to control her anger was a substantial and compelling factor to constitute departure.
In this case, the district court found that the probability of reformation was increased with probation. While amenability to rehabilitation was not a substantial or compelling reason by itself, the court found it significant given the other factors as well.
The Court of Appeals of Kansas affirmed the decision of the trial court. The appellate court held that amenability to rehabilitation alone was not a substantial and compelling reason to depart from a presumptive sentence, but combined with the totality of the circumstances, it warranted departure in this case.