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Kan. AG posts proposed bill to fix 'Hard 50' law

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Attorney General Derek Schmidt on Monday released the language he wants legislators to consider when addressing the Kansas "Hard 50" law during next month's special session, limiting the amount of "new" concepts to be considered.

The Republican said that he completed a draft of the bill to consider during the special session, which starts Sept. 3, with the consultation of the Kansas County and District Attorneys Association.

The "Hard 50" law allows convicted murderers to be sentenced to at least 50 years in prison with no chance of parole. A U.S. Supreme Court decision in June questioned the constitutionality of such sentences.

"We have to the extent possible incorporated language from other sections of existing statute in order to minimize the injection of 'new' concepts or language into this special session," Schmidt wrote in a letter to legislators and Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that juries, not judges, must determine whether the facts in a criminal case warrant a mandatory minimum sentence. In Kansas, judges have considered whether aggravating factors in cases of premeditated, first-degree murder warrant the "Hard 50" rather than life in prison with parole eligibility in 25 years.

Under Schmidt's proposed legislation, a jury would hear evidence presented by prosecuting attorneys stating factors why a defendant should be sentenced to a minimum of 50 years in prison. Defense attorneys would then argue why a lesser sentence should be applied, and jurors would weigh the factors before making a decision.

That's nearly identical to the process that jurors use for deciding if a defendant who has been convicted of capital murder should receive the death penalty or be sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Schmidt said the measure was drafted so that it would cover those cases where crimes were committed after the legislation is signed into law, as well as those previously committed.

The attorney general has identified about two dozen murder cases that could be affected by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, but defense attorneys have noted that even if the convicted offenders don't receive the "Hard 50," they'll still spend years behind bars -- with no immediate danger of their release.