Kansas Attorney General Seeks Special Session On Hard 50

By  | 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt is asking Gov. Sam Brownback to call the Legislature into special session to rewrite the state's ``Hard 50'' sentencing law.

The statute 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 Wednesday to the governor, Schmidt says 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.

The Associated Press obtained a copy of Schmidt's letter from a source who was not authorized to release it publicly. Schmidt did not return a cell phone message seeking comment, but Wednesday night, his office issued a news release saying Schmidt would hold a media availability at 9:15 am Thursday.

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, and the one before that, on property taxes, was in 1989.

Brownback spokeswoman Eileen Hawley said the governor understands the attorney general's concerns.

"The governor will look at it make a decision shortly," she said.