Burden of proof flipped in Kansas prison fights

It’s now up to Kansas prison inmates accused of fighting to prove if they were acting in self defense.

The State Rules and Regulations Board voted Tuesday to approve a temporary rule change that removes the need for a corrections officer to make a case, one way or another, that an inmate was acting in self defense during a prison fight. The inmate is still allowed to claim self defense, but it’s up to them to prove it.

The amended rule followed the Kansas Supreme Court’s ruling earlier this year in May v. Cline. In the case, William May, an inmate at the Larned Correctional Facility, said his due process rights had been violated after being punished for a prison fight. May cited the lack of evidence that he was not fighting in self defense. The state supreme court ruled in May’s favor. According to the court’s ruling, it was up to the officer reporting the fight to prove that someone like May wasn’t fighting in self defense.

“That was an unexpected result in that case,” said Linden Appel, chief legal counsel for the department of corrections. “We really didn’t see that one coming.”

Before Tuesday’s change, there was an exemption to the prison’s ban on fighting if an inmate was defending himself. The department of corrections moved ahead with the rule change, Appel said, because the court’s interpretation made it more difficult for security staff to quickly document prison fights.

“It is their burden alone to prove,” Appel said. “We’re not putting inmates in a corner here and depriving them of that defense.”

The rule approved Tuesday was a temporary change. Appel said it will go into effect immediately. The permanent rule, which is identical to the temporary one, has hearings scheduled for this fall.

Hunter Woodall: 785-354-1388, @HunterMw