Wyandotte & Leavenworth

October 4, 2013

Kansas court expands DNA testing after convictions

Current law allows DNA testing only if defendants are convicted of first-degree murder or rape. In a Wyandotte County case, the Kansas Supreme Court extended it to those serving life sentences for second-degree murder.

A Kansas statute that limits post-conviction DNA analysis to cases involving only first-degree murder or rape is unconstitutional, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled Friday.

In a split decision, the court said the statute violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.

The decision, written by Justice Nancy Moritz, said the law should be extended to cover people serving life sentences for second-degree murder.

The decision reversed a Wyandotte County district court ruling that denied DNA testing to Jerome Cheeks, who was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison after being convicted in 1993 of second-degree murder. The court remanded the case to the Wyandotte County court to establish whether Cheeks meets two other statutory requirements necessary to secure DNA testing of evidence found at the crime scene.

Moritz said the high court could either strike the statute or expand it to include a wider class. She wrote that the U.S. Supreme Court has specified a preference for expanding such a statute rather than striking it.

Justices Dan Biles and Eric Rosen dissented and upheld the statute as written. Chief Justice Lawton Nuss agreed the state statute is problematic, but wrote that he would have struck the statute rather than expand it.

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