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State v. Johnson

Supreme Court of Kansas

October 25, 2019

State of Kansas, Appellee,
Ryan Robert Johnson, Appellant.


         1. If a criminal defendant challenges sufficiency of the evidence on appeal in a case in which a district court instructed a jury on alternative means of committing a crime, the State must establish that it presented sufficient evidence of both alternatives.

         2. When a criminal defendant challenges the sufficiency of evidence on appeal, an appellate court reviews the evidence in a light most favorable to the State to determine whether a rational fact-finder could have found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The appellate court does not reweigh evidence, resolve evidentiary conflicts, or make determinations about witness credibility.

         3. The provision in K.S.A. 2018 Supp. 21-5415(a)(1), allowing for a conviction if a threat of violence is made in reckless disregard for causing fear, is unconstitutionally overbroad because it punishes conduct that is constitutionally protected under some circumstances.

         4. The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects the accused against conviction except upon proof beyond a reasonable doubt of every fact necessary to constitute the crime with which he or she is charged.

         5. A constitutional error is harmless if the State can demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that the error complained of will not or did not affect the outcome of the trial in light of the entire record, i.e., where there is no reasonable possibility that the error contributed to the verdict.

         Review of the judgment of the Court of Appeals in an unpublished opinion filed December 15, 2017.

          Appeal from Montgomery District Court; Jeffrey D. Gossard, judge. Judgment of the Court of Appeals affirming the district court is reversed. Judgment of the district court is reversed and the case is remanded with directions.

          Clayton J. Perkins, of Capital Appellate Defender Office, was on the briefs for appellant.

          Natalie Chalmers, assistant solicitor general, and Derek Schmidt, attorney general, were on the briefs for appellee.


          Luckert, J.

         A jury convicted Ryan Robert Johnson under the Kansas criminal threat statute of intentionally placing another in fear or of making a threat in reckless disregard of causing fear. He appealed, and we consider two issues.

         First, does sufficient evidence support Johnson's conviction for making a criminal threat? Because Johnson's conviction rests on the alternative means of committing the crime by acting either intentionally or recklessly, we must examine the sufficiency of the evidence relating to both mental states. Upon review of the record, we hold the evidence is sufficient.

         Johnson's second issue asks: Is the reckless criminal threat alternative in Kansas' criminal threat statute, K.S.A. 2018 Supp. 21-5415(a)(1), unconstitutionally overbroad? We fully discuss this issue in State v. Boettger, No. 115, 387, 310 Kan., P.3d (2019), (this day decided), and hold that the making-a-threat-in-reckless-disregard alternative is unconstitutionally overbroad. Applying that holding here, we reverse Johnson's conviction and remand for further proceedings.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         The Montgomery County Sheriff's office received a request to check the welfare of Vickie Walker because of allegations that she was being abused by Johnson, her son. An officer called Walker, who reported that Johnson had been causing problems in her home and she was afraid for her safety. But she was "pretty nonspecific," so the officer took no action beyond taking the report. A few nights later, Walker called 911 and requested an officer come to her home.

         Deputy Jacob Garcia responded to the call. Johnson was not present when Deputy Garcia arrived. Walker told Deputy Garcia she came home and found Johnson and his wife arguing. She reported that her daughter-in-law went into another room and locked the door to get away from Johnson, but he kicked the door open. Deputy Garcia noticed a metal clasp on the door was broken and there was a crack running down the door as if it had been forced open. He also saw damage to the door frame. He took pictures of the damage that the jury viewed during the trial. While Deputy Garcia was at the house, Johnson called his mother. The deputy asked Johnson to return, but Johnson stayed away.

         The next morning Johnson returned to Walker's home and another incident occurred that led to another 911 call. Deputy Christopher Bishop and another officer responded. Deputy Bishop interviewed Walker and recorded the interview on his body camera. She reported that Johnson had forced his way into her home, ripped the phone out of the wall, and said, "'Try to call the sheriff now, bitch.'" She also stated that Johnson told her, "'Bitch, if I'm going to be on the streets, then you're going to be on the streets because I'm going to burn your shit up. Then I'm going to be back this afternoon and you ain't going to like what I'm bringing for you.'" According to Walker, Johnson then said, "'I hate you, Mom, you fucking bitch. I wish you would die, but don't worry about it because I'm going to help you get there. I'm going to fucking kill your ass. I hate what you do to me.'"

         Deputy Bishop used the recording from his body camera to write his report. He played and paused the video, rewinding it several times to ensure he accurately quoted Walker's statements. The video was lost before trial, however. The other sheriff's officer who responded to the call heard the conversation between Walker and Deputy Bishop. He wrote a report either the same day or the day after the conversation, ...

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