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Kansas Supreme Court Decisions for April 23, 2021

30 Apr 2021 8:55 AM | Amanda Kohlman (Administrator)

Appeal No. 118,710: State of Kansas v. Jasmon D. Watson

Archived oral argument video
The Kansas Supreme Court reversed Watson's Wyandotte County conviction for Medicaid fraud. On review, Watson argued the prosecutor erred by shifting the burden of proof and misstating the evidence and law during closing arguments. He also claimed the district court committed instructional error, and that cumulative error deprived him of a fair trial. The Supreme Court rejected Watson's argument the prosecutor shifted the burden of proof. However, the Supreme Court found the prosecutor misstated the law because an intent to defraud is an essential element of Medicaid fraud, but the prosecutor's comments suggested otherwise. The Supreme Court also found the prosecutor erred when she said Watson did not provide any evidence to support his defense because Watson testified, and his testimony was evidence. The Supreme Court held the combined effect of these two errors prejudiced Watson's right to a fair trial. Finally, the Supreme Court held an instructional error compounded the prosecutorial error, and their cumulative effect also deprived Watson of a fair trial.

Appeal No. 119,529: State of Kansas v. Luis Antonio Aguirre

Archived oral argument video
The Kansas Supreme Court affirmed the decision of Riley County District Court after Aguirre appealed his convictions for first-degree premeditated murder and voluntary manslaughter. A majority of the Supreme Court determined Aguirre's statements to law enforcement were voluntary. The Supreme Court also unanimously concluded: the district court committed harmless error in admitting expert testimony concerning the length of time a grave had been open; Aguirre's conviction for first-degree premeditated murder was supported by sufficient evidence; the parties' previous stipulation to the authenticity of certain emails made during Aguirre's first trial was also binding on his second trial; the district court did not err in refusing to issue a requested jury instruction on inference stacking; the prosecutor did not err during closing arguments; the district court had jurisdiction to convict Aguirre of two lesser included offenses despite the fact he was charged with only a single count of capital murder; and there was no cumulative error.

Appeal No. 119,998: State of Kansas v. Jeremy D. Levy

Summary calendar; no oral argument

The Kansas Supreme Court upheld Levy's first-degree felony murder conviction in Sedgwick County District Court. Levy shot and killed Erick Vazquez on June 17, 2017. Vazquez was an innocent victim caught in cross-fire between two rival gangs. Levy challenged the sufficiency of the evidence used to convict him, claimed the district court erroneously admitted gang evidence, argued his jury instructions impermissibly expanded the charge against him, and suggested cumulative error denied him a fair trial. The Supreme Court found no error and affirmed the conviction.

Appeal No. 121,054: State of Kansas v. Lee Davis IV

Summary calendar; no oral argument 

The Kansas Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals decision denying Davis' motion to withdraw his plea outside the one-year time limitation. The State charged Davis with first-degree murder and child abuse for allegedly beating his four-year-old son to death. Davis pleaded no contest to one count of second-degree murder and one count of child abuse in 2013 in Brown County District Court. Four years later, Davis filed a pro se K.S.A. 60-1507 motion to withdraw his plea, claiming excusable neglect for his out-of-time request. The district court denied the motion. Davis appealed. The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court ruling. In affirming the Court of Appeals and district court decisions, the Supreme Court found harmless a Court of Appeals error in the way it determined whether to grant or deny Davis' motion to withdraw a plea.

Appeal No. 121,685: State of Kansas v. Carlos Antonio Gallegos

Archived oral argument video

The Kansas Supreme Court affirmed Gallegos’ conviction for first-degree premeditated murder. Gallegos appealed his conviction, arguing Wyandotte County District Court had erred by declining to give jury instructions on voluntary manslaughter and voluntary intoxication. Gallegos also argued the State committed prosecutorial error in closing arguments. The Supreme Court found no error occurred.

Appeal No. 121,181: State of Kansas v. Mark Holley III

Archived oral argument video

The Kansas Supreme Court reversed Holley's first-degree murder conviction but affirmed child endangerment convictions related to four separate events within a month of each other in 2017. Sedgwick County District Court convicted Holley of first-degree felony murder in the shooting death of D'Shaun Smith, two counts of aggravated robbery, two counts of child endangerment, theft, and possession of marijuana. On direct appeal, Holley challenged his first-degree felony murder and child endangerment convictions and lifetime postrelease supervision and restitution orders. The Supreme Court found the district court committed reversible error when it refused a self-defense instruction in the first-degree murder charge. The Supreme Court vacated the entire sentence and remanded to district court for further proceedings.
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