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. Favela, 911 P.2d 792 (Kan. 1996).
This case answers the following question:
Is the defendant’s physical or mental impairment a statutory compelling reason for downward departure?
The issue in this case is whether the defendant’s physical or mental impairment is a statutory compelling reason for downward departure. Mitigating factors may be considered in determining whether substantial and compelling reasons for a departure exist, including: the offender, because of physical or mental impairment, lacked substantial capacity for judgment when the offense was committed.
Favela was at a fight where his brother was stabbed by LaGrange. Before the police arrived, Favela took his brother to the hospital. After dropping his brother off at the hospital, Favela drove back to the site of the stabbing. Police officers spotted him as he was driving back and attempted to stop him. Favela ignored the officers and kept driving, running a number of red lights and stop signs. When Favela arrived at the scene, he got out of his car holding a gun, and he announced that he was going to kill LaGrange for stabbing his brother. The officers at the scene pointed their guns at Favela in an attempt to persuade him to surrender. There was a 45-minute standoff where Favela never pointed the gun at any person, but repeatedly stated that he was going to shoot LaGrange. The standoff ended when Favela surrendered his gun. The district court found the defendant guilty of attempted second-degree murder. Favela filed a motion for departure from the presumptive sentence, which the trial court granted. The Court of Appeals held that the reasons for the departure were not substantial and compelling and reversed and remanded the trial court’s decision.
Mitigating factors may be considered in determining whether substantial and compelling reasons for a departure exist, including: the offender, because of physical or mental impairment, lacked substantial capacity for judgment when the offense was committed. In determining whether a downward departure was appropriate, the court found it significant that Favela was only 17 years old, and that he had just witnessed his brother being stabbed and seriously injured. The court reasoned that because of Favela’s young age and immaturity, his judgment as to how to respond to the stabbing of his brother by LaGrange was impaired. The court found that Favela was severely, emotionally distraught because of his brother’s stabbing, and so he was unable to think rationally due to his immaturity. Due to Favela’s age, immaturity, and because of the stabbing, Favela’s own logical reasoning process was impaired. While much of this argument was only made during oral statements of a defense counsel, a reviewing court may affirm if the sentencing court apparently regarded the oral statements as reliable and trustworthy.
The Supreme Court of Kansas reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals and affirmed the judgment of the district court. The court upheld both the durational and dispositional departure sentence by the sentencing court finding that Favela’s judgment was impaired due to his young age, maturity, and the recent viewing of his brother being stabbed.