The following commentary was submitted by Rep. Lance Kinzer, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee; Rep. Jan Pauls, ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee; Sen. Jeff King, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee; Sen. David Haley, ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee; Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt; Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett; Wyandotte County District Attorney Jerry Gorman; and Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe:
The article “Killers could serve less time under new Hard 50” (Sept. 8 Eagle) turned the law on its head and misinformed Kansans about this important public-safety issue. The new procedural changes to the Hard 50 law were adopted to prevent killers from receiving shorter sentences. They cannot and will not reduce the sentences served by our state’s most heinous murderers.
The possibility of shortened minimum prison sentences was created by the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Alleyne v. United States, not by the new Kansas statute. Alleyne held that any fact used to impose a mandatory minimum sentence must be found by a jury. In Kansas, a judge previously made the factual findings underlying the Hard 50 sentence, a mandatory 50-year minimum sentence imposed on those convicted of premeditated murder when specific aggravating factors exist.
At the request of Attorney General Derek Schmidt, Gov. Sam Brownback called a special session to fix the Hard 50 law. Kansas prosecutors, with bipartisan legislative input, drafted a new procedure to keep mandatory 50-year prison sentences for those already convicted of especially heinous murders, while preserving the Hard 50 for future criminals. Legislators, in one of the shortest special sessions in Kansas history, unanimously passed this new law.
Will the new Hard 50 law be challenged in court? Of course. Criminal defense attorneys will vigorously turn over every possible stone to lower the sentences served by their clients. But the new legislation is not the cause of these court challenges. Rather, it is our best effort to withstand them and prevent the shortening of killers’ prison terms.
Most important, the new Hard 50 law provides certainty for victims’ families. They deserve to know that 50 years in prison means 50 years without any possibility for parole or other release. After their incredible suffering, we owe them that reassurance.
The new Hard 50 legislation is the best possible solution to achieve that certainty. The Eagle article confused the cure with the disease. As Democrats and Republicans, prosecutors and legislators, we all agree that the new Hard 50 law provides the best chance to keep heinous killers incarcerated for at least 50 years.