Judge won’t block new Kansas voting law

by Noah Taborda, Kansas News Service

Topeka — A Shawnee County judge Thursday allowed Kansas to continue enforcing a controversial election law, rejecting arguments it will inhibit voter registration and education efforts.

District Judge Teresa Watson denied a request by four voting advocacy groups to temporarily block the law while a lawsuit filed before the statute took effect July 1 plays out. The groups — the League of Women Voters of Kansas, Loud Light, Kansas Appleseed and Topeka Independent Living Resource Center — objected to a provision in the law that criminalizes knowingly impersonating an election official, arguing it has forced them to cease routine activities that could be interpreted to as a violation of the statute.

Watson rejected this argument, emphasizing that the law requires the individual to “knowingly” misrepresent themselves as an election officer to violate the law.

“Plaintiffs downplay the word ‘knowingly’ … almost to the point of ignoring it,” Watson said, adding that, “The scenarios described by Plaintiffs in their affidavits do not help them. A representative of each organizational Plaintiff stated that its members always identify themselves as members of their respective organizations and not as election officials.”

The action comes just two days after the parties battled in court over the merits of the new law, which threatens felony prosecution for violators.

The lawsuit also addresses several other provisions in the legislation, including a limit on the number of advance ballots an individual can deliver on behalf of others. The groups say these laws will make it harder for senior citizens, members of minority groups, young voters and rural residents to cast their ballots.

A separate federal lawsuit is challenging another state law, which bars out-of-state actors from mailing advance ballots to voters in Kansas.

Kansas Reflector stories, www.kansasreflector.com, may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.
See more at https://kansasreflector.com/2021/09/16/kansas-judge-wont-block-new-kansas-voting-law/

Kansas cold case task force lays groundwork for sharing DNA database hits

by Noah Taborda, Kansas Reflector

Topeka — Members of a task force developing protocol for newly discovered DNA evidence in closed cases is backing a recommendation laying out a process to ensure defense counsel is made aware when a match is found in DNA registries.

Following an August meeting of the Alvin Sykes Cold Case Task Force to discuss possible avenues to address this, a contingent of prosecuting and defense attorneys provided a recommendation for sharing information on hits in CODIS, or the Combined DNA Index System. The suggestion would reinforce the ethical duty of the prosecuting agency to turn this information over to the defense once an investigation, if needed, is completed.

Any investigation must be completed within a reasonable amount of time. The information can be provided to the defense counsel of record immediately if there is no need for an investigation.

Public defenders have expressed concern that an inconsistent approach to DNA sharing among investigating law enforcement agencies or prosecutors could deny defendants the evidence necessary to prove their innocence. Without legal safeguards, they argued, there is considerable risk that exculpatory information is not shared.

“We wanted to at least allow some time for the agency to investigate on their own,” said Alice Craig, a task force member with the University of Kansas Project for Innocence and Post-Conviction Remedies. “That said, we also believe that once that investigation is complete, that information needs to be turned over to counsel regardless of what was determined in the investigation so that counsel of record could look at it and evaluate it.”

The task force recommendations will be included in a report to the Legislature. The task force also is recommending an ongoing educational program to boost knowledge of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation’s Laboratory Information Management System, through which information on DNA matches is available.

While task force members were able to come to a consensus to approve a rough draft of the recommendation, to be refined in the final report, some expressed a desire to see more concrete assurances.

Reid Nelson, a capital appeals defender at the Kansas Board of Indigent Defense Services, was concerned with loose language in the recommendation that could imply the information can be turned over on a discretionary basis. He suggested the task force take the route of drafting or recommending legislation placing this requirement into state statute.

“If we want this to be uniformly implemented in a permanent way, it seems like a statute is by far the best way to make that happen,” Nelson said. “The statutes, for those of us that practice, are the how-to manuals. We all open the statute to see how we should proceed.”

Rep. John Carmichael, a Wichita Democrat and attorney, questioned how long a reasonable amount of time would be before the information is conveyed to the defense counsel. He acknowledged the need for time to investigate the new DNA match but said without some sort of time requirement, cases could fall through the cracks.

“How long a time is necessary or is allowed because I know in a busy lawyer’s office sometimes things come in and you have to prioritize and so six months later, a year later, you might get to a report like this,” Carmichael said. “I don’t want somebody sitting in jail for years because a prosecutor somewhere has not gotten around to notifying defense counsel.”

Carmichael agreed to support the recommendation if a minority report was included emphasizing he, Nelson and others preferred and recommended a legislative path.

Justin Edwards, a deputy district attorney in Sedgwick County representing the Kansas County and District Attorney Association, maintained the ethical obligation to disclose any new information should dispel any concerns.

“I think it’s a good thing that we remind our prosecutors of this obligation, but to create a new statutory obligation under discovery, I think you’re going to lose the support of prosecutors for this language,” Edwards said.

Kansas Reflector stories, www.kansasreflector.com, may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

See more at https://kansasreflector.com/2021/09/15/kansas-cold-case-task-force-lays-groundwork-for-sharing-dna-database-hits/.

Guilty plea entered in 2019 deli murder case

Jermelle Byers has pleaded guilty to two counts of felony murder in connection with a shooting at a deli at 91 N. Mill St. in July 2019, according to the Wyandotte County District Attorney’s spokesman.

Two people were killed in the shooting, Dennis Edwards, 62, and Lachell Day, 42. Edwards was the owner of Edwards Corner Market and Deli.

According to reports at the time of the shooting, the suspect had been involved in an argument at the store, and shots had been fired. The suspect, who was wounded, surrendered after a few hours of negotiations.

Byers’ sentencing is set for Oct. 19.