Breaking the Age Limit: Compensating Juveniles for Wrongful Incarceration in Kansas

Author: Drew Elizabeth Davis, Comment Editor


In 2018, the Kansas Legislature enacted Section 60-5004 of the Kansas Statutes, which establishes “civil action[s] for persons who were wrongfully convicted and imprisoned.”[1] The statute provides that if an individual “was convicted of a felony crime and subsequently imprisoned,” but this conviction was later “reversed or vacated and either the charges were dismissed or . . . the claimant was found to be not guilty,” then they are entitled to receive $65,000 in damages for each year of imprisonment.[2]

The Kansas Supreme Court held in Matter of M.M. that Section 60-5004 applies exclusively to wrongful adult “convictions” and refused to extend the statute to wrongful juvenile “adjudications.”[3] In other words, the court held that exonerated juveniles do not have the same right to receive compensation for their wrongful incarceration as adults do under Section 60-5004. Matter of M.M.’s analysis undermines Section 60-5004’s plain language, purpose, and relevant precedent. Therefore, the Kansas Supreme Court should overturn Matter of M.M. and hold that Section 60-5004 allows juveniles and adults to seek damages for their wrongful incarceration.


A. The Juvenile-Justice System

The juvenile-justice system is a distinct legal system that processes juveniles, or people between the ages of ten and seventeen, suspected of committing a crime.[4] The juvenile system is separate from the adult criminal system and traditionally differed from its counterpart in several ways.[5] Specifically, the juvenile system’s founders created it to be more flexible, informal, and rehabilitative than the adult system, which historically placed more emphasis on punishment and deterrence.[6]

Because the juvenile-justice system is separate from the adult system, juvenile offenders were originally not entitled to the same constitutional protections as adults.[7] Courts soon recognized, however, that this approach led to “the worst of both worlds” for juveniles.[8] Namely, as juvenile-court judges liberally exercised their discretion, punishments grew disproportionately harsh and juveniles received “neither the [procedural] protections accorded to adults nor the solicitous care and regenerative treatment postulated for children.”[9] Therefore, the United States Supreme Court has extended several constitutional due-process rights to juveniles.[10] Under Supreme Court precedent, juveniles have the constitutional right to “notice of charges, appointment of counsel, confrontation of witnesses, and silence in the face of interrogation,”[11] as well as the “[beyond a] reasonable doubt standard.”[12] Juveniles may also not be sentenced to death or life without parole for nonhomicide offenses.[13]

In In re L.M., the Kansas Supreme Court went a step further. There, the court held that juvenile offenders in Kansas have the right to a jury trial under the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Section 10 of the Kansas Bill of Rights.[14] The court relied heavily on recent amendments to the Revised Kansas Juvenile Justice Code (KJJC), which made the juvenile-delinquency process more closely resemble the adult criminal system.[15] The court reasoned that these similarities entitled juveniles to more of the same rights and protections as adults.[16]

B. Section 60-5004

In 2018, the Kansas Legislature enacted Section 60-5004 of the Kansas Statutes, allowing wrongfully convicted and imprisoned individuals to seek compensation from the state.[17] For a claimant to properly invoke Section 60-5004, they must “establish the following by a preponderance of evidence: [that] (A) The claimant was convicted of a felony crime and subsequently imprisoned; [and] (B) the claimant’s judgment of conviction was reversed or vacated and either the charges were dismissed or on retrial the claimant was found to be not guilty.”[18] If successful, the claimant may recover $65,000 for each year of imprisonment and at least “$25,000 for each additional year served on parole or postrelease supervision.”[19]

In Matter of M.M., the Kansas Supreme Court held that this statute does not extend to wrongful juvenile adjudications because it exclusively refers to individuals who were “convicted.”[20] As the court briefly explained, the word “conviction” has traditionally referred to the final judgment in an adult criminal proceeding.[21] In contrast, the word “adjudication” has traditionally referred to the final judgment in a juvenile delinquency proceeding.[22] Therefore, the court reasoned that the statute’s use of “convicted” meant the Kansas Legislature “unambiguously” intended to exclude juvenile adjudications.[23] The court explained that the Legislature must have acted “with full knowledge of the statutory subject matter, including prior and existing caselaw,” which “clearly states that ‘a juvenile adjudication is not a criminal conviction.’”[24] The court engaged in no further analysis.


Matter of M.M.’s analysis undermines Section 60-5004’s plain language, purpose, and relevant precedent. Therefore, the Kansas Supreme Court should overturn Matter of M.M. and hold that Section 60-5004 allows juveniles and adults to recover damages for their wrongful incarceration.

  1. Plain Language

(1) Convicted

(a) Text

The court’s analysis of the word “convicted” is misguided. The M.M. court reasoned that because Section 60-5004 provides relief for claimants who were wrongfully “convicted,” the statute cannot encompass wrongful juvenile “adjudications.”[25] M.M.’s analysis turns on the belief that Kansas “caselaw clearly states that ‘a juvenile adjudication is not a criminal conviction.’”[26] But this oversimplifies the issue.

Indeed, the word “convicted” should not exclude wrongful adjudications under Section 60-5004 because the adult and juvenile-justice systems have become increasingly similar. The Kansas Supreme Court’s analysis from In re L.M. supports this conclusion.[27] There, the court determined that the word “prosecutions” in Section 10 of the Kansas Bill of Rights encompasses both adult convictions and juvenile adjudications, thus granting juveniles the same right to a jury trial as adults.[28]

In reaching this conclusion, the In re L.M. court relied heavily on the fact that the KJJC had undergone significant textual changes, causing it to closely resemble the adult criminal-justice system. For example, the court noted that the juvenile system in Kansas now requires offenders to “plead guilty, not guilty, or nolo contendre like adults charged with a crime,” and that juvenile courts enter punishment at a sentencing “proceeding.”[29] Based on the textual and practical similarities between the two systems, the court reasoned that juveniles should receive more of the same rights as adults.[30] By highlighting the similarities between the two systems, the In re L.M. court stressed that the terminology previously used to distinguish between them must be flexible and accommodate their practical overlap.

 In re L.M.’s analysis implies that the distinction between “convictions” and “adjudications” has become increasingly ambiguous.[31] Indeed, the Kansas Supreme Court demonstrated this ambiguity by referring to juvenile “adjudications” as “convictions.”[32] Specifically, in granting juveniles the right to a jury trial, the In re L.M. court clarified that its holding did “not create a new class of convicted persons, but merely raise[d] ‘the possibility that someone convicted with the use of the invalidated procedure might have been acquitted otherwise.’”[33] This statement reveals the ease with which the two terms may be interchanged—even by those familiar with the issue.

Legal definitions additionally provide little guidance on the distinction. Black’s Law Dictionary defines a conviction as “the act or process of judicially finding someone guilty of a crime.”[34] Likewise, it defines a wrongful conviction as “[a] conviction of a person for a crime that he or she did not commit.”[35] These definitions provide that convictions may be conferred upon a “person” or “someone”; they do not indicate that only adults may be the subject of wrongful convictions.

(b) Precedent

Extending Section 60-5004 to juvenile adjudications also does not violate relevant caselaw surrounding the word “convicted.” The Matter of M.M. court briefly reasoned that according to In re D.E.R., In re L.M. did not signify that the words “conviction” and “adjudication” could be used interchangeably.[36]  This is incorrect for two reasons. First, as demonstrated above, the In re L.M. court did intertwine the two words.[37] Second, the In re D.E.R. court never mentions the terms “conviction” or “adjudication.”  Instead, as the Kansas Supreme Court has previously recognized, In re D.E.R. and In re L.M. together demonstrate that: “(1) The KJJC is patterned after the adult criminal code, including the designation of proceedings as prosecutions; and (2) juveniles may be entitled to constitutional protections that are extended to adult offenders, but generally not statutory rules of procedure unless specifically provided for in the KJJC.”[38]

Despite Matter of M.M.’s conclusion otherwise, this caselaw does not clearly and unambiguously dictate that Section 60-5004 cannot be extended to juvenile adjudications. Although the right to receive compensation following wrongful incarceration is not a constitutional right, Section 60-5004 is also not a statutory rule of procedure. Statutory rules of procedure “deal with ‘the manner and order of conducting suits.’”[39]  On the other hand, “substantive laws establish the ‘rights and duties of parties.’”[40]  Section 60-5004 is a substantive remedial statute because it establishes the right to receive damages for wrongful incarceration. Because Section 60-5004 is not a statutory rule of procedure, Kansas caselaw does not preclude extending it to wrongful juvenile adjudications.

Given the convoluted caselaw and legal scholarship surrounding this issue, it seems fair that the Legislature, even acting with full knowledge of the subject matter, could assume that a wrongful “conviction” also referred to a wrongful juvenile “adjudication.” Therefore, at the very least, the analysis of Section 60-5004 must continue beyond the word “convicted.”

(2) Imprisoned

Section 60-5004 should apply to wrongful juvenile adjudications because both adults and juveniles can be wrongfully “imprisoned.” The similarities between juvenile and adult correctional facilities support interpreting the term “imprisoned” to encompass time spent in either. For example, the Kansas Supreme Court in In re L.M. emphasized that (1) the phrase “juvenile correctional facility” is almost identical to an adult “correctional institution”;[41] (2) “the KJJC emulates the language of the Kansas Criminal Code when it refers to the term of commitment to a juvenile correctional facility as a ‘term of incarceration’”;[42] and (3) under both the KJJC and adult sentencing guidelines, an offender has the “opportunity to earn good time credits to reduce his or her term of incarceration.”[43] Based on these similarities between the incarceration of adults and juveniles, the term “imprisoned” should also encompass time spent in juvenile correctional facilities.

Recent caselaw supports this conclusion. In Matter of Baumgarner, the Kansas Supreme Court held that a person can be wrongfully imprisoned under Section 60-5004 even if they were not incarcerated in a state correctional institution.[44] Instead, the court held that as long as the statute defining the chargeable offense contemplated “imprisonment” as a punishment, and the person was subsequently incarcerated, they may seek redress under Section 60-5004.[45]

Juveniles are regularly charged with crimes that contemplate “imprisonment” as a form of punishment. For example, in Matter of M.M., the court initially charged M.M. with aggravated indecent liberties, a level 3- or 4- person felony.[46] In Kansas, felonies are punishable by “imprisonment” for one year or more.[47] Therefore, the statute defining the offense with which M.M. was charged contemplated “imprisonment” as punishment for the crime. Under Baumgarner, M.M.’s time spent in a juvenile correctional facility as punishment for the offense should be considered wrongful “imprisonment” for Section 60-5004.

(3) Tuition Assistance

Furthermore, extending Section 60-5004 to juveniles is appropriate because the statute allows successful claimants to receive compensation through tuition assistance. The accompanying statute provides: “Any individual awarded tuition assistance pursuant to K.S.A. 60-5004 shall receive a waiver of tuition and required fees for attendance at a postsecondary educational institution for up to 130 credit hours. Such individual may attend a postsecondary educational institution either full or part time.”[48] Postsecondary education refers to “any state educational institution,” such as the University of Kansas, Kansas State University, and Wichita State University.[49]

In Kansas, most university students are between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four.[50] As such, university students are not far removed from the juvenile justice system and are more likely to have been wrongfully found guilty of juvenile offenses. In other words, tuition assistance for postsecondary education would be a desirable remedy for individuals who were wrongfully found guilty of juvenile offenses at the age of sixteen and subsequently incarcerated for any significant time. Because the Legislature provided monetary relief that specifically benefits recent juveniles, the Legislature likely intended Section 60-5004 to encompass wrongful juvenile adjudications.

B. Statutory Purpose

Section 60-5004’s statutory purpose further supports its extension to wrongful juvenile adjudications. Statutes compensating individuals for wrongful incarceration are generally meant to address the economic and psychological effects of incarceration.[51] The same is true of Section 60-5004. For example, Vignesh Ganapathy, the Policy Director for the ACLU of Kansas, testified in support of Section 60-5004 that “wrongful imprisonment is the most severe deprivation of liberty” and that “Kansas has a responsibility to foster re-entry and restore a sense of justice” for these individuals.[52] Extending Section 60-5004 to juveniles advances these goals because (1) the state has a self-proclaimed duty to rehabilitate incarcerated juveniles and (2) incarceration is particularly damaging for them.

Extending Section 60-5004 to wrongful juvenile adjudications is appropriate because the state has an equal, if not greater, duty to protect and compensate innocent children. According to the KJJC, one of the primary goals of the juvenile-justice system is to “improve [guilty offenders’] ability to live more productively and responsibly in the community.”[53] This goal is thus implicit and paramount when reintegrating innocent children whom the state wrongfully incarcerated.

This duty of rehabilitation is critical for wrongfully incarcerated juveniles because the effects of incarceration are as severe for juveniles as they are for adults—if not more so. Studies have found that confinement in a juvenile detention facility significantly reduces the likelihood of graduating high school, future wage-earnings potential, and employment rates.[54] “Studies also find that incarceration during adolescence leads to poorer health in adulthood” and “is associated with shorter life expectancy.”[55]

The United States Supreme Court has also consistently noted that the damaging effects of juvenile incarceration require special attention. For example, in Graham v. Florida, the Court outlawed life without parole as a punishment for juveniles who did not commit homicide because the punishment interferes with their most formative stages of life.[56] Furthermore, “in 1970, the Court ruled that the reasonable doubt standard also applies to juveniles, stating that ‘[t]he same considerations that demand extreme caution in factfinding to protect the innocent adult apply as well to the innocent child.’”[57]

Given the significant adverse effects of incarceration on juveniles, extending Section 60-5004 to juveniles advances the statute’s purpose. Wrongfully incarcerated juveniles spend their most formative years in confinement, hindering their personal development and damaging their future prospects. Because the Legislature intended Section 60-5004 to remedy these adverse effects, courts should not distinguish between whether adults or juveniles suffered them. As the United States Supreme Court put it, the same considerations that demand compensation for the wrongful imprisonment of innocent adults apply as well to the innocent child.

[1] Kan. Stat. Ann. § 60-5004 (Supp. 2023).

[2] Id.

[3] Matter of M.M., 482 P.3d 583, 584 (Kan. 2021).

[4] Charles Puzzancheras, Sarah Hockenberry & Melissa Sickmund, Youth and the Juvenile Justice System: 2022 National Report, 87 (Nat’l Ctr. for Juvenile Just., 2022) (“In most states, the juvenile court has original jurisdiction over all youth charged with a law violation who were younger than age 18 at the time of the offense, arrest, or referral to court.”); Juvenile-Justice System, Black’s Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019) (“The collective institutions through which a youthful offender passes until any charges have been disposed of or the assessed punishment has been concluded”).

[5] Robin Walker Sterling, Fundamental Unfairness: In re Gault and the Road Not Taken, 72 Md. L. Rev. 607, 616–622 (2013).

[6] Id.; A.C., IV v. People, 16 P.3d 240, 242 (Colo. 2001); Andrew Treaster, Juveniles in Kansas Have a Constitutional Right to a Jury Trial, Now What? Making Sense of In re L.M., 57 U. Kan. L. Rev. 1275, 1278–1282 (2009).

[7] Treaster, supra note 6, at 1280–82.

[8] Kent v. United States, 383 U.S. 541, 556 (1966).

[9] Id.

[10] See id.; In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1 (1967); Sterling, supra note 5, at 634–37.

[11] In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1, 33, 41, 55, 57 (1967); Treaster, supra note 6, at1281.

[12] In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 365 (1970).

[13] Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48, 74–75 (2010), as modified (July 6, 2010); Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551, 575 (2005).

[14] In re L.M., 186 P.3d 164, 172 (Kan. 2008).

[15] Id. at 167–170.

[16] Id.

[17] Kan. Stat. Ann. § 60-5004 (Supp. 2023).

[18] Id. -5004(c)(1)(A)–(B).

[19] Id. -5004(e)(1)(A)–(B).

[20] Matter of M.M., 482 P.3d 583, 585 (Kan. 2021).

[21] Id.

[22] Id.

[23] Id.

[24] Id. 

[25] Id.

[26] Id. 

[27] In re L.M., 186 P.3d 164, 172 (Kan. 2008).

[28] Id.

[29] Id. at 168–69.

[30] Id. at 167–170.

[31] See Michael J. Ritter, Just (Juvenile Justice) Jargon: An Argument for Terminological Uniformity Between the Juvenile and Criminal Justice Systems, 37 Am. J. Crim. L. 221 (2010).

[32] In re L.M., 186 P.3d 164, 172 (Kan. 2008).

[33] Id. (emphasis added).

[34] Conviction, Black’s Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019). 

[35] Wrongful Conviction, Black’s Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019).

[36] Matter of M.M., 482 P.3d 583, 585 (Kan. 2021); In re D.E.R., 225 P.3d 1187, 1191–1192 (Kan. 2010).

[37] In re L.M., 186 P.3d 164, 172 (Kan. 2008).

[38] In re P.R.G., 244 P.3d 279, 285 (Kan. Ct. App. 2010) (emphasis added).

[39] Dester v. Dester, 335 P.3d 119, 123 (Kan. Ct. App. 2014).

[40] Id. 

[41] In re L.M., 186 P.3d 164, 168–169 (Kan. 2008).

[42] Id.

[43] Id. at 169.

[44] Matter of Baumgarner, 537 P.3d 92, 93–94 (Kan. 2023).

[45] Id.

[46] Matter of M.M., 482 P.3d 583, 584 (Kan. 2021); See Kan. Stat. Ann. § 21-5506(b) (2023).

[47] Kan. Stat. Ann. § 21-6804(b) (2023).

[48] Kan. Stat. Ann. § 74-32,195(a) (2019).

[49] Kan. Stat. Ann. § 76-711(a) (2019).

[50] Kansas Higher Education Statistics, Enrollment for All Delivery Methods by Full-time Equivalency and Age-Group, Academic Years 2018-2023 (Kan. Bd. of Regents, 2023),

[51] Scott Connolly, Righting the Wrongfully Convicted: How Kansas’s New Exoneree Compensation Statute Sets a Standard for the United States, 93 St. John’s L. Rev. 883, 887–88, 903–904 (2019).

[52] Providing Compensation for a Person Who Was Wrongfully Convicted and Imprisoned: Hearing on H.B. 2579 Before the H. Comm. on the Judiciary,2018 Leg., 2017-2018 Sess. (Kan. 2018) (statement of Vignesh Ganapathy, Policy Director, ACLU of Kansas),

[53] Kan. Stat. Ann. § 38-2301 (2006).

[54] Richard Mendel, Why Youth Incarceration Fails: An Updated Review of the Evidence (The Sentencing Project, 2023),; see also Lauren Legner, The Psychological Consequences of a Wrongful Conviction and How Compensation Statutes Can Mitigate the Harms, Mich. St. L. Rev.: MSLR Forum (April 26, 2022),

[55] Mendel, supra note 54.

[56] Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48, 74–75 (July 6, 2010).

[57] In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 365 (1970); Treaster, supra note 6, at 1281.

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