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Kansas Supreme Court Decisions for August 6, 2021

06 Aug 2021 11:03 AM | Amanda Kohlman (Administrator)

Appeal No. 120,387: In the Matter of the Appeal of River Rock Energy Company for the Year 2016 in Labette, Neosho, and Wilson Counties

Appeal No. 120,387 archived oral argument

The Supreme Court agreed with the Board of Tax Appeals decision to uphold the county appraisers' application of the Kanas Oil and Gas Appraisal Guide in valuing River Rock Energy Company's wells.

River Rock raised a multijurisdictional dispute over valuation given for the 2016 tax year to its working interests in 203 gas wells and related equipment. State law mandates county appraisers adhere to the Kansas Oil and Gas Appraisal Guide developed by the Kanas Department of Revenue's Property Valuation Division unless "just cause" is shown for deviation. River Rock claimed the Guide produced inflated values for their producing gas leases by capping operating expense allowances to arrive at what is known as a "working interest minimum lease value." In deciding its challenge, the Board and the Court of Appeals disagreed about applying the Guide's working interest minimum lease values for River Rock's wells. In a decision written by Justice Dan Biles, the Supreme Court agreed with the Board and upheld the validity of the Guide.

 For the remaining issues raised before the court, it affirmed the Board's decision to use the Guide's values for well-site equipment on River Rock's leases. The court also upheld the Court of Appeals' decision that it had jurisdiction to entertain River Rock's challenge to the Board's order refusing to abate filing fees for this multiproperty protest appeal. The court remanded the case to the Board for further proceeding consistent with the Court of Appeals direction on the fee abatement issue.

Appeal No. 119,764: State of Kansas v. Tommy L. Jones

Appeal No. 119,764 archived oral argument

 The Supreme Court affirms in part and reverses in part the Court of Appeals decision and affirms in part and reverses in part Sedgwick County District Court judgment after Jones appealed his four convictions for sexual exploitation of a child, which arose following a jury trial. The Supreme Court concluded that jury instructions for two of Jones' four charged counts of sexual exploitation were clearly erroneous based on their use of incorrect statutory language and reversed Jones' convictions on those two counts. The Supreme Court affirmed Jones' remaining convictions, concluding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in permitting the State to present evidence of Jones' prior crimes, that the jury instructions correctly stated under existing Kansas law, that the State was not required to prove that Jones knew the age of the victim, and that Jones failed to preserve for appeal his First Amendment challenge to the constitutionality of K.S.A. 2014 Supp. 21-5510. Based on these conclusions, the Supreme Court declined to reach the parties' remaining arguments.

Appeal No. 121,105: State of Kansas v. Tria L. Evans 

Appeal No. 121,105 archived oral argument

An assailant attacked Evans’ former romantic partner at his mother’s house, shooting the partner and setting the house on fire. Surveillance cameras, GPS data, and witnesses identified Evans, working in cooperation with another woman, as the shooter. A jury convicted Evans of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, arson, and aggravated burglary, and the Douglas County District Court sentenced her to a life term of imprisonment without the possibility of parole for 50 years. On appeal, Evans challenged the use of out-of-court statements and evidence that she engaged in prior bad acts, as well as the refusal to order a mental health evaluation before sentencing.

 Writing for a unanimous Supreme Court, Justice Eric Rosen affirmed the conviction and sentence. The court determined that the out-of-court statements satisfied statutory exceptions to the rule prohibiting hearsay evidence. The court further determined the evidence of earlier acts by Evans, including asking other people to kill the victim on her behalf and relaying threats to the victim, was introduced for the legitimate purposes of establishing motive, premeditation, and identity. In all, the court found no abuse of discretion in allowing the jury to consider the challenged evidence. Finally, the court found the district court did not abuse its discretion when it denied Evans’ request for a post-trial mental evaluation, noting that Evans offered no evidence that her mental capacity was in question.

Appeal No. 119,761: State of Kansas v. Megan Danielle Euler 

Appeal No. 119,761 archived oral argument

 The Supreme Court affirmed Euler’s conviction for identity theft in Johnson County District Court. The conviction resulted from Euler’s purchase of Worlds of Fun tickets using a coworker’s debit card and home address without the coworker’s knowledge. On appeal, Euler argued the State failed to present evidence she was in Johnson County when the crime occurred and that she should have been convicted for the more specific offense of criminal use of a financial card rather than identity theft. Writing for the Court, Justice Caleb Stegall noted there was enough evidence about Euler’s activities before and after the crime to conclude Euler was in Johnson County at the time the tickets were purchased. Also, while evidence could support a conviction of criminal use of a financial card, the State proved that identity theft occurred because Euler used her coworker’s address when she completed the transaction, and that a financial card belonging to a corporate entity rather than an individual cannot be identity theft because it does not belong to another natural person. Justice Dan Biles concurred with the majority that the conviction and sentence for identity theft should be affirmed, but he disagreed with the majority that Kansas businesses needed to be excluded as potential victims from the more serious crime of identity theft.

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