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State v. Alford

Supreme Court of Kansas

October 26, 2018

State of Kansas, Appellee,
v.
Brent L. Alford, Appellant.

         SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

         1. An appellate court applies a de novo standard of review to a district court's summary denial of a motion to correct an illegal sentence under K.S.A. 22-3504.

         2. K.S.A. 22-3504 only applies if a sentence is illegal. Whether a sentence is illegal is a question of law over which an appellate court has unlimited review. An illegal sentence under the statute is one imposed by a court without jurisdiction, a sentence that does not conform to the statutory provision, either in the character or the term of the punishment authorized, or a sentence that is ambiguous with respect to the time and manner in which it is to be served.

         3. A sentence that conforms to the applicable statutory provision in both character and term of authorized punishment is not illegal.

          Appeal from Sedgwick District Court; Jeffrey E. Goering, judge.

          Brent L. Alford, appellant, was on the briefs pro se.

          Matt J. Maloney, assistant district attorney, Marc Bennett, district attorney, and Derek Schmidt, attorney general, were on the brief for appellee.

          Nuss, C.J.

         Brent L. Alford appeals the district court's summary denial of his motion to correct an illegal sentence. Alford argues his hard 40 sentence is illegal because the sentencing jury considered inadmissible hearsay evidence and was wrongly instructed that it needed to unanimously recommend the hard 15 sentence. Because his claims cannot be raised in a motion to correct an illegal sentence, we affirm the decision of the district court.

         Facts and Procedural History

         In 1993, Alford was convicted of first-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping, and unlawful possession of a firearm for shooting his ex-girlfriend seven times while she was at work. After convicting Alford of first-degree murder, the jury reconvened to determine whether he should receive a hard 40 sentence, i.e., a life sentence with a mandatory minimum of 40 years.

         At sentencing, the jury was instructed to recommend a hard 40 sentence if it found beyond a reasonable doubt that "there are one or more aggravating circumstances and that they outweigh mitigating circumstances," and it was the jury's duty to return a hard 15 verdict if "you have a reasonable doubt that aggravating circumstances outweigh mitigating circumstances." The jury was also instructed "[i]n order to reach a verdict in this case, your decision must be unanimous." Alford's jury checked its verdict form's box next to the aggravating circumstance that Alford committed the crime in an especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel manner. Based on the jury's findings, the district court imposed the hard 40 sentence.

         We affirmed Alford's convictions and sentence on direct appeal. State v. Alford, 257 Kan. 830, 896 P.2d 1059 (1995). There, we held the murder victim's written statement regarding a prior aggravated battery was not hearsay because it was not admitted to prove the truth of the matter asserted. Rather, the statement was admissible to show discord and that Alford was distraught over the breakup, which had a bearing on his intent to kill. 257 Kan. at 840.

         Twenty-one years later, in 2016, Alford filed two pro se motions to correct an illegal sentence. In the motions, Alford argued that the trial court violated K.S.A. 1993 Supp. 21-4624(3) by permitting the sentencing jury to consider the murder victim's written statement regarding the earlier aggravated battery, which he contended was improperly admitted at trial in violation of hearsay rules and at sentencing in violation of due process and the Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses. He also argued the court wrongly instructed the jury and the ...


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