Most states categorize their felonies into levels or classes (such as Class A) and assign sentences to each class. Other states set out a penalty for each individual crime. Kansas, however, takes a different approach. Felony sentencing in Kansas involves several factors: severity level, sentencing grids, offender criminal history, and the circumstances of the crime. Read on to learn how judges determine and impose felony sentences in Kansas.
Kansas divides felony crimes into nondrug offenses and drug offenses. For each nondrug felony offense, the law specifies a severity level of 1 to 10 (one being the most serious and ten the least) and designation as a person or nonperson offense. The law ranks drug offenses by severity level 1 to 5 (one being the most serious and five the least).
Here are some examples of felony severity levels and designations.
After a conviction, the judge will hand down the offender's sentence, which can occur immediately or in a separate sentencing hearing. The judge can impose one or more of the following options:
Let's review some of these options below, starting with incarceration and sentencing grids. (Kan. Stat. § 21-6604 (2020).)
Kansas uses sentencing grids to determine an offender's punishment. Sentencing grids (or guidelines) aim to provide consistency and fairness in sentencing without regard to race, gender, wealth, or residence. The grids base sentencing on the offense severity level and the offender's criminal history. Two offenders who commit the same crime and have the same criminal history should get the same penalty.
Kansas uses two sentencing grids—one for nondrug crimes and one for drug crimes. On the grids, the vertical axis represents the severity level of the crime (1 to 10) and the horizontal axis lists the criminal history (from no prior offenses to three or more prior person offenses). The discussion below highlights the nondrug grid, but the same principles apply to the drug grid.
The grids work like this: Based on the offense severity level (say level 2) and the offender's criminal history (say category D based on 1 prior person felony), you'll find the appropriate sentencing box (Box 2D). The sentence specified in Box 2D ranges from 181 to 200 months (15 to 17 years) in prison. The judge can hand down a sentence within this range. Check out the grid here.
If the offense severity increases to level 1, the possible sentence will increase. Or if the offender has a lengthy criminal past (say three or more person felonies), the sentence will also increase. And the reverse is true—if the offense severity goes down or the criminal history decreases, the sentencing range will also decrease.
Sentencing range. Most sentences will fall somewhere near the middle of the range provided in the box (16 years in the above example). But the range allows the judge to impose a sentence at the upper limit if the crime involved aggravating circumstances (say a vulnerable victim or a cruel act) or at the lower limit if mitigating circumstances existed (say the offender played a minor role in the crime).
Prison or probation. The grid also designates whether the judge should sentence the offender to prison or probation—called the sentencing disposition. All severity level 1 crimes (like rape and murder) impose prison sentences. Most severity level 7 to 10 crimes (such as theft) presume the judge should sentence the offender to probation rather than prison. A few crimes fall in between prison and probation on the grid. In these cases (called border boxes), the judge can impose either disposition. (More on probation below.)
Off-grid or non-grid crimes. Some crimes in Kansas are designated as off-grid felonies. Most off-grid felonies are very serious crimes, punishable by the death penalty or life imprisonment. For example, rape of a child is an off-grid felony, punishable by life in prison. Some felony crimes carry a specific sentence in statute—these crimes are non-grid crimes.
(Kan. Stat. §§ 21-5404, 21-6804, 21-6805, 21-6806, 21-6815 (2020).)
As discussed above, the offender will face a prison sentence or probation sentence depending on the offense and criminal history placement on the grid. Here's how the judge decides these sentences.
In imposing a prison sentencing, the judge will pronounce (1) the maximum sentence within the grid-box range and (2) the maximum amount of "good time" that can be earned. An offender earns good time by avoiding disciplinary actions while serving the prison sentence. If an offender earns good time, that amount will be subtracted from the maximum sentence. Statute caps good time at 15% to 20% of the maximum sentence.
Kansas does not use a parole system, which requires the offender to apply to a board for release from prison. In Kansas, once the judge hands down the sentence, offenders know the minimum and maximum amount of prison time they face. So for a ten-year sentence, an offender who serves prison time without any disciplinary problems could shave off two years of the sentence. This offender knows he's serving eight to ten years. (Kan. Stat. § 21-6821 (2020).)
Probation refers to putting prison time on hold and allowing the offender to serve most of the sentence in the community. Probation doesn't necessarily mean that the offender completely avoids time behind bars. As a condition of probation, the judge can order an offender to serve jail time. Other probation conditions might include reporting to a probation officer, abstaining from alcohol or drugs, completing community service, remaining on home arrest, or staying away from victims. While on probation, the offender's prison sentence remains on the table. The judge can revoke probation and send the offender to prison for violating probation. (Kan. Stat. §§ 21-6607, 21-6608 (2020).)
Statutes of limitations are time limits on criminal prosecutions. After the crime occurs, the prosecutor must file criminal charges within five years for most Kansas felonies. The most serious crimes in Kansas, such as murder and terrorism, have no statute of limitations.
Kansas' sentencing grids can be complicated and are best understood and tackled with the help of a professional. If you are charged with a felony in Kansas, talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney. An attorney will explain how your case is likely to fare in court and defend your rights.