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State v. Jamerson

Supreme Court of Kansas

January 25, 2019

State of Kansas, Appellee,
v.
James Lee Jamerson, Appellant.

         SYLLABUS

         1.Interpretation of sentencing statutes is a question of law over which an appellate court exercises unlimited review.

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

         3. Under K.S.A. 22-3504(1), courts may correct an illegal sentence at any time.

         4. When one or more of the sentences in a multiconviction case is illegal under K.S.A. 22-3504, district courts may only correct the illegal sentence or sentences.

         5. When correcting an illegal sentence, the district court's authority in setting the length of the new prison term includes determining whether the corrected sentence will run consecutive to, or concurrent with, the other sentences.

         Review of the judgment of the Court of Appeals in an unpublished decision filed February 3, 2017. Appeal from Shawnee District Court; Evelyn Z. Wilson, judge. Decision filed January 25, 2019. Judgment of the Court of Appeals affirming in part, vacating in part, and remanding with directions is affirmed in part and reversed in part. Judgment of the district court is affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded with directions.

          Joseph A. Desch, of Law Office of Joseph A. Desch, of Topeka, argued the cause, and was on the brief for appellant.

          Jodi E. Litfin, assistant solicitor general, argued the cause, and Rachel L. Pickering, assistant solicitor general, Chadwick J. Taylor, former district attorney, Michael F. Kagay, district attorney, and Derek Schmidt, attorney general, were on the briefs for appellee.

          NUSS, C.J.

         James Lee Jamerson challenges his resentencing after the district court granted his motion to correct an illegal sentence but then also modified the duration and concurrent nature of one of his legal, nonbase sentences. The primary issue presented asks: to what extent can a district court modify multiple sentences when only some of them are held to be illegal following a motion to correct an illegal sentence?

         We conclude the district court may only correct the illegal sentences. We affirm in part and vacate in part the decision of that court, affirm in part and reverse in part the decision of the Court of Appeals, and remand with directions.

         Facts and Procedural History

         In 2001, Jamerson pled no contest to (1) second-degree murder, a severity level 1 person felony; (2) aggravated robbery, a severity level 3 person felony; and (3) conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery, a severity level 5 person felony. Jamerson and the State agreed to recommend a 288-month controlling prison sentence, and the district court agreed to follow the recommendation. In its implementation, the court determined Jamerson had a criminal history score of D and sentenced him to a standard grid box term of 253 months for second-degree murder; a downward departure to 35 months for aggravated robbery; and a downward departure to 35 months for conspiracy. The court ordered the aggravated robbery sentence to run consecutive to the second-degree murder sentence and the conspiracy sentence to run concurrent with both. This resulted in a total controlling sentence of 288 months' imprisonment.

         Fourteen years later in 2015, Jamerson filed a pro se motion to correct an illegal sentence, and his appointed counsel later filed a supplemental motion. Jamerson argued his criminal history score was incorrect at sentencing. After holding an evidentiary hearing, the court determined Jamerson's criminal history should have been H, not the more serious D. To correct the error, Jamerson and the State both recommended that the second-degree murder sentence be reduced from 253 months to 176 months. This would in turn reduce the controlling sentence to 211 months' imprisonment.

         At resentencing, the court noticed another error in Jamerson's sentences. Specifically, the 2001 sentencing court had erroneously also applied Jamerson's criminal history to the nonbase sentences of aggravated robbery and conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery. Under the sentencing guidelines, the court does not apply the defendant's criminal history score to nonbase sentences but instead uses the gridbox applicable for no criminal history, or I. K.S.A. 2001 Supp. 21-4720(b)(5) ("Nonbase sentences will not have criminal history scores applied, as calculated in the criminal history I column of the grid, but base sentences will have the full criminal history score assigned."). The error did not impact Jamerson's aggravated robbery conviction because the court's downward departure to 35 months coincidentally was a gridbox sentence for a severity level 3 person felony with no criminal history. But the 35-month sentence for conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery was an illegal upward departure when using the correct criminal history score. That gridbox sentence should have been 31 months (mitigated), 32 months (standard), or 34 months (aggravated).

         In an apparent effort to keep the new sentence as close as possible to the one in 2001, the 2015 court resentenced Jamerson to the aggravated gridbox sentence of 186 months for second-degree murder; the standard gridbox sentence of 59 months for aggravated robbery; and the aggravated grid box sentence of 34 months for conspiracy. The court ordered all three sentences to run consecutive for a total controlling sentence of 279 months' imprisonment.

         Jamerson appealed, arguing the court only had authority to correct the illegal second-degree murder sentence and lacked jurisdiction to modify his unchallenged aggravated robbery and conspiracy sentences.

         The Court of Appeals panel concluded the 2015 resentencing court had jurisdiction to modify the conspiracy sentence from the erroneous downward departure of 35 months to the appropriate aggravated term of 34 months because the sentence itself was illegal, independent of the illegal base sentence for second-degree murder. State v. Jamerson, No. 115, 629, 2017 WL 462716 (Kan. App. 2017) (unpublished opinion). But it concluded the court did not have jurisdiction to deviate from the original sentence by making the conspiracy sentence run consecutive to the second-degree murder and aggravated robbery sentences or to resentence Jamerson to 59 months for aggravated robbery. The panel held Jamerson should have a controlling sentence of 221 months- 186 for the ...


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