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State v. Amos

Supreme Court of Kansas

December 15, 2017

State of Kansas, Appellee,
v.
Vernon J. Amos, Appellant.

         SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

         A claim that a sentence is illegal because it violates the constitution cannot be brought via K.S.A. 22-3504(1). Nor can a K.S.A. 22-3504(1) motion to correct an illegal sentence serve as the procedural vehicle for attacking the constitutionality of K.S.A. 2016 Supp. 21-6620(f), which makes legislation enacted in response to Alleyne v. United States, 570 U.S. 99, 133 S.Ct. 2151, 186 L.Ed.2d 314 (2013), inapplicable to sentences that were final before June 17, 2013.

         Appeal from Wyandotte District Court; Wesley K. Griffin, judge.

          Randall L. Hodgkinson, of Kansas Appellate Defender Office, was on the brief for appellant.

          Jerome A. Gorman, district attorney, and Derek Schmidt, attorney general, were on the brief for appellee.

          OPINION

          LUCKERT, J.

         In 2013, the Kansas Legislature held a special session in response to the United States Supreme Court's decision in Alleyne v. United States, 570 U.S. 99, 133 S.Ct. 2151, 186 L.Ed.2d 314 (2013), and enacted provisions requiring jury findings before an enhanced mandatory minimum sentence can be imposed for persons convicted of premeditated first-degree murder. L. 2013, ch. 1 (now codified at K.S.A. 2016 Supp. 21-6620). In this appeal, Vernon J. Amos argues he is entitled to a new sentencing hearing under this 2013 legislation even though his sentence was imposed in 1999 and became final after exhaustion of his direct appeal in 2001.

         Before us, Amos recognizes the Kansas Legislature provided the 2013 legislation "shall not apply to cases in which the defendant's conviction and sentence were final prior to June 17, 2013." K.S.A. 2016 Supp. 21-6620(f). But, for the first time on appeal, he argues this restriction violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Because the effect of this attack would ultimately lead to application of the amended provisions, Amos argues this court has jurisdiction under K.S.A. 22-3504(1), the statute allowing the court to consider an illegal sentence at any time.

         We reject Amos' argument. Although Amos couches his claim in statutory terms in an attempt to fit his arguments within the parameters of caselaw regarding K.S.A. 22-3504(1) motions, he primarily complains his sentence is illegal because he has been subjected to unequal treatment in a manner prohibited by the constitution. This court has repeatedly held a defendant cannot raise constitutional challenges to a sentence via a motion to correct illegal sentence under K.S.A. 22-3504(1). We, therefore, affirm the district court's summary denial of Amos' motion.

         Facts and Procedural History

         In March 1999, a jury convicted Amos of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery. In a separate sentencing hearing conducted in July 1999, a district court judge weighed certain aggravating and mitigating factors set forth in K.S.A. 21-4636 and K.S.A. 21-4637 and sentenced Amos to a hard 40 sentence for his first-degree murder conviction and 120 months for his conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery conviction. Amos appealed without raising any sentencing issues, and this court affirmed his convictions. State v. Amos, 271 Kan. 565, 23 P.3d 883 (2001).

         Subsequently, Amos sought postconviction relief. He twice brought actions under K.S.A. 60-1507; both motions were summarily dismissed by the district court and affirmed by the Court of Appeals. Amos v. State, No. 90, 683, 2004 WL 48887 (Kan. App. 2004); Amos v. State, No. 109, 106, 2014 WL 3731905 (Kan. App. 2014). Amos also sought federal habeas relief without success. Amos v. Roberts, 189 Fed.Appx. 830 (10th Cir. 2006) (unpublished opinion); Amos v. Roberts, No. 04-3138-SAC, 2006 WL 354833 (D. Kan. 2006) (unpublished opinion).

         The current proceeding began in 2015, when Amos filed a pro se motion to correct an illegal sentence. He primarily argued he was entitled to relief under two cases: State v. Murdock, 299 Kan. 312, 323 P.3d 846 (2014), overruled by State v. Keel, 302 Kan. 560, 357 P.3d 251 (2015), and State v. Dickey, 50 Kan.App.2d 468, 329 P.3d 1230 (2014), aff'd 301 Kan. 1018, 350 P.3d 1054 (2015). He also argued he was entitled to relief under the 2013 legislation now codified at K.S.A. 2016 Supp. 21-6620. He did not raise a constitutional challenge to 21-6620(f), however, or even recognize its preclusive effect.

         The district court summarily denied the motion on December 15, 2015. The court's brief order addressed the legality of the sentence but did not specifically address Amos' attempt to invoke the legislation enacted in 2013 as a basis ...


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