Eligibility for Postconviction DNA Testing Not Determined by Sentence Imposed

State v. LaPointe, No. 113,580 (Kan. Feb. 15, 2019)

Issue: Some offenders qualify for postconviction DNA testing if they are similarly situated to those convicted of first-degree murder and rape. LaPointe was convicted of aggravated robbery but—because of his criminal history—received a sentence similar in length to a rape conviction. Does the length of LaPointe’s sentence make him similarly situated to offenders convicted of rape?

Answer: No. The sentence imposed does not determine whether an offender is similarly situated to a person for whom postconviction DNA testing is statutorily available.

Facts: LaPointe was convicted of aggravated robbery and aggravated assault. Evidence of hair found on the perpetrator’s clothing was submitted to the jury. Years after the trial, LaPointe requested DNA analysis on the hair under K.S.A. § 21-2512. The State objected on the grounds that LaPointe’s crimes were not eligible under the statute.

Discussion: K.S.A. § 21-2512 allows for postconviction DNA testing for defendants convicted of first-degree murder and rape. In Cheeks I, the Court expanded eligibility to cover other similarly-situated offenders due to Fourteenth Amendment considerations. Here, the Court overruled Cheeks I to the extent it held the length of a sentence determines whether offenders are similarly situated.

The District Court reasoned that LaPointe was similarly situated to those convicted of first-degree murder or rape because he had a comparable sentence length. But the Supreme Court noted that LaPointe’s punishment was only severe enough to rival the sentences for murder or rape because of his previous criminal convictions. Thus, under the Cheeks I rule, offenders with significant criminal records could be eligible for DNA testing, but first-time offenders for the same crime would not be. Additionally, the Court reasoned the legislature has authority to limit postconviction DNA testing eligibility without violating equal protection.

Key Authorities:
Kan. Stat. Ann. § 21-2512 (Supp. 2017)

State v. Cheeks, 298 Kan. 1, 310 P.3d 346 (2013) (holding that “the relevant trait for our similarly situated analysis is the sentence imposed . . . not the elements of the crimes.”)

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