Kansas Supreme Court issues three opinions then overrules them on the same day

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Kansas Supreme Court

The Kansas Supreme Court ruled in three opinions on Friday that the state’s sex offender registry law can’t be applied retroactively, then overruled itself in a fourth opinion issued the same day.

The reason for the change in stance was a new justice who joined the court, taking the place of a senior district judge who was filling a vacancy, report the Kansas City Star, the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Associated Press and the Sentencing Law and Policy blog. How Appealing links to the coverage and the opinions, including this opinion (PDF) overruling the prior decisions.

The new justice, Caleb Stegall, wrote the opinion allowing retroactive application of the law requiring lifetime registration for convicted sex offenders. The new majority led by Stegall found that the registration law didn’t constitute punishment and didn’t violate federal and state constitutional bans on cruel and unusual punishment.

The three rulings for defendants challenging retroactive application for the law were held until the Stegall opinion was released. The first three cases were heard in September 2014 and the last case overruling them was heard in September 2015, according to a dissent in the fourth case. The three defendants who won rulings in their favor will still benefit, according to the dissent.

A lawyer for one of the three defendants who won their cases, Jeff Dazey, told the Kansas City Star that he was “pleased, disappointed and somewhat perplexed” by the rulings.

“Virtually every year the Kansas legislature has modified the law to make registration more difficult and more expensive, while simultaneously increasing the penalties for failing to register and increasing the time that a person has to register,” Dazey said. “I firmly believe that applying these draconian terms and conditions on people whose initial registration duties expired is unconstitutional.”

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