Kansas Supreme Court vacates two ‘Hard 50’ sentences

05/23/2014 6:01 PM

06/03/2014 10:17 AM

The Kansas Supreme Court vacated two more “Hard 50” prison sentences Friday and sent them back to lower courts, including one that was at the heart of a legislative special session last year.

The seven-member court’s rulings dealt only with whether Matthew Astorga and Joaquin DeAnda’s sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole for 50 years were constitutional. Both convictions were for murder in 2008 — DeAnda in Finney County and Astorga in Leavenworth.

In both cases, the state’s high court said the men must be resentenced because their prison terms were decided by a judge not a jury, a process deemed unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2013 in an unrelated Virginia case.

Astorga’s case, which was already being reviewed by the federal courts, got sent back to Kansas — a move that put the fate of Kansas’ “Hard 50” sentencing law in question.

Kansas legislators rewrote the law in September to require a jury, not a judge, to determine whether the factors in a crime warrant a mandatory minimum sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole for 50 years in cases of premeditated first-degree murder.

The lawmakers also specified that the new legislative fix would apply to all cases on appeal.

The Kansas Supreme Court, in vacating Astorga and DeAnda’s sentences, refused to rule on whether the legislative fix is constitutional, saying the issue wasn’t “ripe” for review. The court has taken the same stance in other “Hard 50” cases.

Astorga’s defense attorney, Randall Hodgkinson, has argued that the most his client should receive is life in prison without a possibility for parole for 25 years because that was the most severe sentence available at the time of the crime that was constitutional.

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