Kansas High Court finds “drug paraphernalia” ambiguous in state law

Justin B. Eckert
Justin B. Eckert(KASPER)
Published: Jan. 23, 2023 at 7:38 AM CST
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - The Kansas Supreme Court affirmed a reduction in an inmate’s convictions finding the term “drug paraphernalia” used in the law he was convicted under was ambiguous.

The Kansas Supreme Court says during a special evening docket on Oct. 3 in Parsons that it heard the case of Appeal No. 120,566: State of Kansas v. Justin Burke Eckert and on Friday, Jan. 20, it released its opinion.

Court records indicate that Eckert was convicted by a jury of aggravated kidnapping, aggravated battery, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, criminal threat, cultivation of marijuana, 8 counts of felony possession of drug paraphernalia and 17 counts of misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia.

The Court said Eckert appealed the conviction and in turn, the Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed seven of his felony possession convictions and 16 misdemeanor possession convictions.

The Justices indicated they granted review on whether the Court of Appeals made a mistake when it held that state law is ambiguous because the term “drug paraphernalia” in the statute could refer to either a singular item of paraphernalia or multiple items.

In a unanimous opinion written by Justice Melissa Standridge, the Court said it affirmed the Court of Appeals judgment and found that the Legislature intended the term “drug paraphernalia” as used in the law to be tied to a single unit of prosecution.

That said, the Court also noted that its analytical path differed from the Court of Appeals as its opinion stemmed from the ordinary and plain meaning of the term used in the statute, the fundamental rule of statutory construction that a court is required to show a statute to avoid unreasonable or absurd results and applying the rule of lenity.

Because the Court said it found the term “drug paraphernalia” to be ambiguous, it did not address a separate sufficiency of the evidence argument which pertained to two of Eckert’s felony possession drug paraphernalia convictions.

The case stemmed from Eckert’s 2018 convictions for crimes that happened in 2016.