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State v. Cotton

Supreme Court of Kansas

April 14, 2017

State of Kansas, Appellee,
v.
Louis Cotton, Appellant.

         SYLLABUS

         1. Whether a sentence is illegal within the meaning of K.S.A. 22-3504 is a question of law over which an appellate court has unlimited review.

         2. An illegal sentence is defined as (1) a sentence imposed by a court without jurisdiction; (2) a sentence that does not conform to the applicable statutory provision, either in the character or the term of the authorized punishment; or (3) a sentence that is ambiguous concerning the time and manner in which it is to be served.

         3. Under the facts of this case, the district court did not err in summarily denying defendant's motion.

         Appeal from Wyandotte District Court; J. Dexter Burdette, judge. Affirmed.

          Gerald E. Wells, of Jerry Wells Attorney-at-Law, of Lawrence, argued the cause and was on the brief for appellant.

          Sheryl L. Lidtke, chief deputy district attorney, argued the cause, and Jerome A. Gorman, district attorney, and Derek Schmidt, attorney general, were with her on the brief for appellee.

          OPINION

          Nuss, C.J.

         Twenty-six years after his convictions, Louis Cotton filed two pro se motions entitled "motion to set aside a void judgment." The district court summarily denied both as untimely filed. Cotton acknowledges they are indeed too late when considered as motions (1) to arrest judgment or (2) for judgment of acquittal. So he asks this court to treat the single motion at issue in this appeal as one to correct an illegal sentence. While such a motion would be timely filed, it is the wrong vehicle for bringing Cotton's particular arguments. So we affirm the district court's summary denial, albeit for a different reason.

         Facts and Procedural Background

         On September 13, 1988, Cotton pled guilty to three counts of forgery. On November 4, 1988, a jury convicted him of one count of aggravated burglary, one count of unlawful weapons possession, two counts of aggravated robbery, one count of felony theft, and one count of first-degree murder. The district court sentenced Cotton to 3 to 15 years for each count of forgery, 15 to 60 years for aggravated burglary, 9 to 30 years for unlawful firearm possession, 45 years to life for each count of aggravated robbery, 3 to 15 years for felony theft, and 3 life sentences for first-degree murder. We affirmed Cotton's convictions in his direct appeal to this court in State v. Cotton, No. 63, 648 (Kan. May 25, 1990) (unpublished opinion).

         In 2014, 26 years after his convictions, Cotton filed with the district court two pro se motions entitled "motion to set aside a void judgment." Cotton concedes the first, filed October 20th, is not properly before this court because it duplicates a motion the district court denied in 2002.

         Cotton's second motion, filed December 4, included eight arguments for why his "convictions should not have been sustained." He claimed the district court erred when it: (1) allowed the prosecution to repeatedly ask questions of Cotton regarding the credibility of witnesses and then attack him for those answers; (2) lowered the burden of proof by incorrectly defining "deliberately" and "premeditation" in the jury instructions; (3) allowed the prosecution to lower its burden of proof when it defined "reasonable doubt" in closing arguments; (4) did not require the prosecutor to prove "corpus delicti, " thereby lowering the burden of proof; (5) allowed the prosecution to "express judicial approval of the [p]rosecution's case"; (6) allowed the prosecution to state facts not in evidence; (7) allowed the prosecution to "put forth evidence at trial that a death was from a 'homicide'"; and (8) allowed cumulative errors that prejudiced the defendant's ability to obtain a fair trial.

         The district court's memorandum decision summarily denied Cotton's motion because, however ...


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