Simultaneous Consideration No Longer Required for Kansas Homicide Instructions

State v. SimsNo. 115,038 (Kan. Nov. 30, 2018)

Issue: The Kansas Supreme Court has previously held that courts must instruct juries to consider both greater and lesser offenses simultaneously in homicide cases. After years of criticism, should courts still require simultaneous instructions?

Answer: No. Requiring juries to simultaneously consider conflicting offenses is confusing, ineffectual, and lacks legal justification. Kansas precedent requiring simultaneous consideration in homicide cases is now overruled.

Facts: Sims was convicted of premeditated first-degree murder. When delivering jury instructions, the district court judge listed the premeditated murder offenses in descending order, beginning with premeditated first-degree murder and ending with voluntary manslaughter. Specifically, the jury was instructed “[i]f you do not agree that the defendant is guilty of [greater offense], you should then consider [lesser offense].” On appeal, Sims argued the instructions were erroneous, as the jury should have been instructed to consider the greater and lesser homicide offenses simultaneously.

Discussion: Sims cited to State v. Graham, which held that instructions must allow the jury to consider intentional second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter simultaneously in a homicide case.

The Kansas Supreme Court overruled State v. Graham, which held that simultaneous consideration of different—even conflicting—homicide offenses is required. The Court determined that the Graham requirements were “unworkable.” Different homicide cannot always be simultaneously considered. For example, premeditated homicide requires planning, which conflicts with the unplanned nature of a manslaughter offense.

Key Authorities:

State v. Graham, 275 Kan. 831, 69 P.3d 563 (2003) (holding courts must instruct the jury to consider each homicide offense simultaneously).

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