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State v. Lee

Supreme Court of Kansas

June 9, 2017

State of Kansas, Appellee,
v.
Undra Lee, Appellant.

         SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

         K.S.A. 21-4724 was clear as to the time at which eligibility for the retroactive application of the Kansas Sentencing Guidelines Act was to be determined-a person's pre-July 1, 1993, criminal acts were compared to the law in effect on July 1, 1993, to determine conversion eligibility.

         Appeal from Sedgwick District Court; John J. Kisner, Jr., judge.

          Carl F.A. Maughan, of Maughan Law Group LC, of Wichita, and Sean M.A. Hatfield, of the same firm, were on the brief for appellant.

          Julie A. Koon, assistant district attorney, Marc Bennett, district attorney, and Derek Schmidt, attorney general, were on the brief for appellee.

          OPINION

          Biles, J.

         Under the Kansas Sentencing Guidelines Act (KSGA), certain offenders who committed crimes before KSGA's effective date are eligible to have their sentences converted to the sentences they would have received under KSGA. Undra D. Lee was convicted and sentenced under pre-KSGA law for first-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping, kidnapping, and aggravated assault. In this appeal, Lee argues the district court erred by summarily denying his motions to correct an illegal sentence through which he sought to have his sentences converted to KSGA grid sentences. He advances two justifications for this relief.

         First, he argues conversion must occur because the KSGA grid-box designations, upon which conversion eligibility turned, did not exist in Kansas law until the KSGA was enacted. Therefore he argues that his pre-KSGA crimes must be considered conversion-eligible under State v. Murdock, 299 Kan. 312, 319, 323 P.3d 846 (2014) (regarding person/nonperson classification of prior out-of-state offenses for purposes of calculating criminal history score), overruled State v. Keel, 302 Kan. 560, 357 P.3d 251 (2015), cert. denied 136 S.Ct. 865 (2016). Second, he argues the district court's summary denial deprived him of his statutory right to a hearing under K.S.A. 22-3504.

         Lee is not entitled to have his sentences converted because Murdock has been overruled, and its rationale is nonetheless inapplicable to sentence-conversion claims. See State v. Jeffries, 304 Kan. 748, 751-52, 375 P.3d 316 (2016) (noting Murdock involved an interpretation of K.S.A. 21-4711[e]'s ambiguity language, whereas the Jeffries court applied K.S.A. 21-4723 [Furse 1995], which was "crystal clear" about the KSGA's retroactive application eligibility). Moreover, because the record conclusively demonstrates Lee is not entitled to relief on his motions, the district court did not err by summarily denying them.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         A jury convicted Lee of four January 1993 crimes: first-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping, kidnapping, and aggravated assault. He was sentenced for these crimes in 1995.

         On July 1, 1993, the KSGA became effective. K.S.A. 1993 Supp. 21-4701 et seq. The KSGA's purpose was "'"to standardize sentences so that similarly situated offenders would be treated the same, thus limiting the effects of racial and geographic bias."'" Keel, 302 Kan. at 574. To this end, the KSGA established a grid under which the sentence for a felony conviction is determined by applying two controlling factors: "the severity level of the current crime of conviction and the offender's criminal history score." 302 Kan. at 574.

         In conjunction with the KSGA, the legislature assigned severity levels to felony offenses. As of July 1, 1993, first-degree murder was designated an off-grid crime subject to life imprisonment rather than a grid sentence. K.S.A. 21-3401 (first-degree murder); K.S.A. 1993 Supp. 21-4706(c) (off-grid crimes). Aggravated kidnapping was designated a severity level 1 felony, kidnapping a severity level 3 felony, and aggravated assault a severity level 7 felony. K.S.A. 21-3421 (aggravated kidnapping); K.S.A. 21-3420 (kidnapping); K.S.A. 21-3410 (aggravated assault).

         The KSGA permitted the Department of Corrections (DOC) in limited circumstances to retroactively convert the sentences of offenders, incarcerated on the KSGA's effective date for certain offenses, to KSGA guidelines sentences. See K.S.A. 21-4724. The statute provided that "persons who committed crimes which would be classified in a presumptive nonimprisonment grid block on [the nondrug] sentencing grid, in grid blocks 5-H, 5-I or 6-G of the nondrug grid . . . if sentenced pursuant to the [KSGA] shall have their sentence modified." K.S.A. 21-4724(b)(1). The statute directed the DOC to prepare sentencing guidelines reports on all inmates incarcerated as of July 1, 1993, "except ...


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