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July 5, 2004 - The Kansas City Star (MO)

Meth Makers Could See Prison Time Cut

Ruling Extends Resentencing Provision

By Tony Rizzo, Kansas City Star

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

The Kansas Supreme Court has dealt more bad news to the state's drug prosecutors.

In a decision released June 25, the court expanded and clarified an earlier ruling that could drastically cut the sentences of hundreds of convicted methamphetamine "cooks."

The earlier ruling declared the state's guidelines for sentencing methamphetamine manufacturers to be illegal and directed that persons be sentenced again for a lower-level crime.

The new ruling extends the resentencing provision to defendants who pleaded guilty, as well as those who were convicted at trials. Officials are now trying to sort out how many cases will be affected.

The new ruling also said part of the Kansas Legislature's recently enacted effort to fix the state's methamphetamine law is unconstitutional.

"Unfortunately, this just adds to the fallout from the McAdam decision," said Johnson County District Attorney Paul Morrison.

The Supreme Court's decision in the case of Brian McAdam came in January. Because the case involved a defendant who had gone to trial and been convicted by a jury, attorneys were unsure how it affected persons who were sentenced as part of plea bargains.

The Supreme Court's recent decision in the Washington County case of Theresa A. Barnes found that the McAdam ruling does apply to plea bargain cases.

After the January ruling, officials estimated that as many as 440 inmates in Kansas prisons could be affected. Patricia Biggs, executive director of the Kansas Sentencing Commission, said that was the maximum possible number and that authorities did not think that many would be affected.

Another case pending before the Supreme Court will also affect some cases, Biggs said.

Randall Hodgkinson, the deputy appellate defender who successfully argued the McAdam and Barnes cases, said the pending case should resolve the question of whether the McAdam decision applies to defendants pursuing a different type of appeal.

He estimated that the case could affect about 100 persons in prison.

The problem revealed by the McAdam case was the use of the word "compounding" in two separate Kansas drug statutes. One, passed in 1990, specifically addressed the growing problem of methamphetamine manufacturing and imposed a more serious penalty on these crimes.

When two laws cover the same criminal activity, a person can be sentenced only under the law containing the lesser sentence, the court said in the ruling.

The effect was that persons serving sentences ranging from 11 1/2 to 17 years in prison for methamphetamine crimes before the McAdam ruling could be resentenced to terms ranging from one year and two months to just over four years.

In this year's session, the Kansas Legislature corrected the wording for methamphetamine crimes so that in the future those convicted will face the more serious sentences. An attempt to have the new law applied retroactively was struck down by the Supreme Court in the Barnes decision.

"I think it was a valiant effort by the Legislature," Morrison said. "But anytime you try to change a penalty retroactively, it's difficult to do and pass constitutional muster."

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