Kansas Supreme Court Decisions, January 20, 2023

23 Jan 2023 11:30 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Appeal No. 120,566: State of Kansas v. Justin Burke Eckert

Appeal No. 120,566 archived oral argument

The Supreme Court heard this case on a special evening docket October 3 in Parsons.

A jury convicted Eckert of aggravated kidnapping, aggravated battery, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, criminal threat, cultivation of marijuana, eight counts of felony possession of drug paraphernalia under K.S.A. 2016 Supp. 21-5709(b)(1), and 17 counts of misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia under K.S.A. 2016 Supp. 21-5709(b)(2). Eckert appealed and the Court of Appeals affirmed the district court in part and reversed seven of Eckert's felony possession convictions and 16 of his misdemeanor possession convictions. The Supreme Court granted review on whether the Court of Appeals erred when it held that K.S.A. 2020 Supp. 21-5709(b) is ambiguous because the term "drug paraphernalia" in the statute could refer to either a singular item of paraphernalia or multiple items. In a unanimous opinion written by Justice Melissa Standridge, the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals judgment, finding that the Legislature intended the term "drug paraphernalia" as used in K.S.A. 2016 21-5709(b) to be tied to a single unit of prosecution. That said, the Court's analytical path differed from the Court of Appeals, as the Supreme Court's opinion stemmed from (1) the ordinary and plain meaning of the term "drug paraphernalia" as used in the statute, (2) the fundamental rule of statutory construction that a court must construe a statute to avoid unreasonable or absurd results, (3) and applying the rule of lenity. Because the court found the term "drug paraphernalia" ambiguous, it did not address a separate sufficiency of the evidence argument pertaining to two of Eckert's felony possession drug paraphernalia convictions.
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