Defendant’s Responsibility for Fact Finding in Constitutional Sentencing Challenges

State v. Espinoza, No. 118,737 (Kan. Apr. 24, 2020).

Issue: Whether a high court must remand a case to the lower court to develop the necessary factual record for an as-applied challenge to a sentence arguing it was constitutionally impermissible under section 9 of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights. 

Answer: No. 

Facts:  Following his guilty plea and prior to sentencing, Espinoza moved for a durational departure based on the claim that the facts made the hard 25 sentence unconstitutional under section 9 of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights.  At sentencing, Espinoza orally raised this argument and cited the three-pronged proportionality test from State v. Freeman, which he argued “required the district court to assess the specific facts of his case to determine the constitutionality of his sentence under § 9 of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights.”  The district court denied the departure and made no factual findings.  Espinoza made a direct appeal to the Kansas Supreme Court.

Discussion: Factual and legal determinations are required when making a section 9 disproportionality analysis.  Precedent has established “it is the defendant’s responsibility to ensure the district court makes the factual findings necessary for appellate review.”  Two ways for defendants to meet this responsibility are objecting “to the district court’s failure to make factual findings at sentencing” and filing a motion under Supreme Court Rule 165.  The Court indicated the ruling in State v. Seward controls and cited to State v. Reed, which had a nearly identical fact pattern.  Because Espinoza did not fulfill this responsibility, his challenge “is not amenable to appellate review.”

Key Authorities:

Kan. Const. Bill of Rights § 9.

State v. Freeman, 574 P.2d 950 (Kan. 1978).

State v. Seward, 271 P.3d 443 (Kan. 2009) (holding defendants appealing sentences on constitutional grounds must guarantee the necessary factual findings are done by the district court).

State v. Reed, 332 P.3d 172 (Kan. 2014).

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