Kansas attorney general seeks special legislative session to rescue ‘Hard 50’ law

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt on Wednesday asked Gov. Sam Brownback to call the Legislature into special session to rewrite the state’s “hard 50” sentencing law.

The law allows people convicted of first-degree murder to be sentenced to a minimum of 50 years in prison before they can seek parole.

In a letter to the governor, Schmidt said a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision raised questions about the constitutionality of the Kansas law. The high court held that juries, not judges, should have the final say on facts triggering mandatory minimum sentences.

In Kansas, a judge decides whether aggravating factors warrant imposing the hard 50.

The Associated Press obtained a copy of Schmidt’s letter from an official who was not authorized to release it publicly. Neither Schmidt nor his spokesman returned messages seeking comment.

Schmidt wrote that his office has identified about two dozen murder cases that could be affected by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling and there are likely to be more. The alternative sentence in such murder cases is a minimum of 25 years in prison.

“With each passing day, the loophole that has been created in Kansas law grows wider,” Schmidt wrote. “Because these are the ‘worst of the worst’ homicides, I believe the interests of public safety require us to act swiftly.”

The Kansas Legislature schedules annual 90-day sessions, and this year’s session formally adjourned June 20, three days after the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in a Virginia case. Lawmakers aren’t scheduled to be in session again until January.

Special legislative sessions are uncommon in Kansas. The last was in 2005, in response to a Kansas Supreme Court order on education funding.

Brownback spokeswoman Eileen Hawley said the governor understands the attorney general’s concerns. She said Brownback will make a decision shortly.