Appeal No. 115,817: State of Kansas v. Aaron Robert Brown
Summary calendar; no oral argument
The Supreme Court reversed a Court of Appeals panel and affirmed Cowley County District Court's action to discard the "in" prefix from "voluntary manslaughter" on Brown's jury verdict form. The Supreme Court granted the State's petition for review to resolve a panel split between State v. Brown, No. 115,817, 2017 WL 5016171 (Kan. App. 2017) (unpublished opinion) and State v. Rice, No. 103,223, 2011 WL 4031494 (Kan. App. 2011) (unpublished opinion), concerning a district court's ability to resolve inconsistencies between verdict forms and other case evidence, including charging documents and jury instructions. In an opinion written by Justice Caleb Stegall, the Supreme Court sided with the Rice panel's approach and held a strong presumption exists in favor of the literal text of a verdict form and a district court judge may only invoke the surplusage rule to discard inconsistent parts of a verdict form when the record as a whole necessarily creates doubt as to its meaning. A district court may consider anything from the record that tends to show with certainty what the jury intended, and the district court judge must be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt the record as a whole clearly demonstrates the intent of the jury when discarding contrary surplusage. Applying Brown's facts, the Supreme Court held the record created doubt as to the meaning of the jury's verdict but noted aspects of the trial record demonstrated the jury's intent with certainty. With this evidence, the Supreme Court held the jury intended to convict Brown of attempted voluntary manslaughter beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore, the Supreme Court held the district court did not err when it discarded the "in" prefix from the verdict form as mere surplusage and reversed the Court of Appeals panel.