102 P.3d 445 (Kan. 2004), 81,135, State v. Marsh

Docket Nº:81,135.
Citation:102 P.3d 445, 278 Kan. 520
Party Name:STATE of Kansas, Appellee, v. Michael Lee MARSH II, Appellant.
Attorney:[37] Rebecca E. Woodman and Steven R. Zinn, capital appellate defenders, argued the cause and were on the briefs for appellant. [38] John K. Bork, assistant attorney general, argued the cause, and Kristafer Ailslieger, Jared Maag, and Elizabeth Reimer, assistant attorneys general, and Carla J. St...
Case Date:December 17, 2004
Court:Supreme Court of Kansas

Page 445

102 P.3d 445 (Kan. 2004)

278 Kan. 520

STATE of Kansas, Appellee,


Michael Lee MARSH II, Appellant.

No. 81,135.

Supreme Court of Kansas.

December 17, 2004


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Syllabus by the Court

1. The standard of review on a sufficiency of the evidence claim in a criminal appeal is whether, after review of all the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the prosecution, we are persuaded that a rational factfinder could have found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

2. A conviction of even the gravest offense may be sustained by circumstantial evidence. It is the function of a jury and not an appellate court to weigh evidence and pass on the credibility of witnesses.

3. The evidence in this case was sufficient to establish that the defendant set the fire in issue, that one of the victim's burns was the proximate cause of her death, and that defendant acted intentionally and with premeditation in killing the other victim.

4. The purpose of a motion in limine is to assure all parties a fair and impartial trial by prohibiting inadmissible evidence, prejudicial statements, and improper questions by counsel.

5. A party whose evidence is excluded by a motion in limine has the responsibility

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of proffering sufficient evidence to preserve the issue on appeal.

6. No error in either the admission or the exclusion of evidence is a ground for new trial or for setting aside a verdict unless refusal to take such action appears to be inconsistent with substantial justice. An appellate court must disregard any error or defect in a proceeding that does not affect the substantial rights of the parties.

7. Errors in violation of a constitutional right of a party are governed by the federal constitutional error rule. Under that rule, an error of constitutional magnitude may not be found harmless unless an appellate court is willing to declare a belief beyond a reasonable doubt that the error had little, if any, likelihood of having changed the result of the trial.

[278 Kan. 521] 8. Under the Kansas and federal Constitutions a criminal defendant is entitled to present the theory of his or her defense. Exclusion of evidence that is an integral part of the theory violates the defendant's fundamental right to a fair trial.

9. Few rights are more fundamental than that of an accused to present witnesses in his or her defense. The right to present a defense is, however, subject to statutory rules and case law interpretation of rules of evidence and procedure.

10. The general rule is that, unless otherwise provided by statute, constitutional prohibition, or court decision, all relevant evidence is admissible. Relevant evidence is evidence having any tendency in reason to prove any material fact.

11. To establish relevance, a party must show there is some material or logical connection between the asserted facts and the inference or result they are designed to establish.

12. The probative values of direct and circumstantial evidence are intrinsically similar, and there is no logically sound reason for drawing a distinction as to the weight to be assigned to each.

13. Proper application of Kansas' third-party evidence rule is limited. Although evidence of a third party's motive to commit a crime, standing alone, is not relevant, such evidence may be relevant if there is other evidence connecting the third party to the crime. Furthermore, circumstantial evidence connecting a third party to a crime must not be excluded merely because the State relies upon direct evidence of a defendant's guilt. There is no bright line rule. Instead, the decision whether to admit third-party evidence is entrusted to the sound discretion of the district court, after evaluation of the totality of facts and circumstances in a given case under the relevance standard set forth in K.S.A. 60-407(f). To the extent earlier Kansas decisions suggest that the third-party evidence rule should be applied more broadly, they are disapproved.

14. On the record in this case, the district court's failure to engage in an evaluation of the totality of facts and circumstances under the relevance standard set forth in K.S.A. 60-407(f) in order to determine whether the defendant's third-party evidence was [278 Kan. 522] admissible was reversible error.

15. A party, through testimony, may open the door for otherwise inadmissible evidence.

16. The admission of circumstantial evidence of a third person's culpability is constitutionally required when the third person testifies against the defendant. A defendant's constitutional right of confrontation is violated when he or she is prohibited from engaging in otherwise appropriate cross-examination designed to show a prototypical form of bias, a need to deflect suspicion, on the part of the third party.

17. On the record in this case, the district court committed reversible error by refusing to admit the defendant's third-party evidence after the third party testified against the defendant.

18. It is a fundamental rule of statutory construction, to which all other rules are subordinate, that the intent of the legislature governs if that intent can be ascertained. The legislature is presumed to have expressed its intent through the language of the statutory scheme it enacted. When a statute is plain and unambiguous, the court must give effect to the intention of the legislature as expressed, rather than determine

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what the law should or should not be. Stated another way, when a statute is plain and unambiguous, the appellate courts will not speculate as to the legislative intent behind it and will not read such a statute so as to add something not readily found in the statute.

19. Kansas courts may apply the avoidance doctrine in appropriate cases. The doctrine is characterized by application of two canons of statutory interpretation. First, the constitutionality of a statute is presumed. All doubts must be resolved in favor of its validity, and, before the statute may be stricken down, it must clearly appear the statute violates the constitution. In determining constitutionality, it is the court's duty to uphold a statute under attack rather than defeat it. If there is any reasonable way for the court to construe the statute as constitutionally valid, it should do so. Statutes are not stricken down unless the infringement of the superior law is clear beyond a reasonable doubt. Second, a statute apparently void on its face may be constitutional when limited and construed to read the necessary requirements into it. This may be done, for [278 Kan. 523] example, when such an interpretation will carry out the intent of the legislature.

20. The avoidance doctrine seeks in part to minimize disagreement between the legislative and judicial branches of government by preserving enactments that might otherwise founder on constitutional objections. It is not designed to aggravate that friction by creating, through the power of precedent, statutes foreign to those the legislature intended. Those who invoke the doctrine must believe that the alternative is a serious likelihood that the statute will be held unconstitutional. In addition, the statute must be genuinely susceptible to two constructions after, and not before, its complexities are unraveled. Only then is the statutory construction that avoids the constitutional question a fair one.

21. The courts' power to employ the avoidance doctrine to construe away a statute's constitutional infirmity is limited. The judiciary may not rewrite language enacted by the legislature. Rather, the doctrine applies only when a statute is ambiguous, vague, or overbroad.

22. It is recognized under the doctrine of stare decisis that, once a point of law has been established by a court, that point of law generally will be followed by the same court and all courts of lower rank in subsequent cases where the same legal issue is raised. Stare decisis operates to promote system-wide stability and continuity by ensuring the survival of decisions that have been previously approved.

23. Judicial adherence to constitutional precedent ensures that all branches of government, including the judicial branch, are bound by law. However, courts of last resort are not inexorably bound by their own precedents. They will follow the rule of law established in earlier cases unless clearly convinced that the rule was originally erroneous or is no longer sound.

24. Stare decisis is a principle of policy and not a mechanical formula of adherence to the latest decision. It is designed to protect well-settled and sound case law from precipitous or impulsive changes. It is not designed to insulate a questionable constitutional rule from thoughtful critique and, when called for, abandonment. This is especially true when the rule in question was adopted sua sponte and is young and previously untested.

25. K.S.A. 21-4624(e) is unambiguous. Its express language was clearly intended to mandate the imposition of a death sentence when the existence of aggravating circumstances was not outweighed by any mitigating circumstances. The legislature chose this language over alternative wording recommended by the attorney general to avoid constitutional infirmity. As a result, the statute is unconstitutional on its face under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.

26. The avoidance doctrine cannot be appropriately applied to save K.S.A. 21-4624(e). Any holding to the contrary in State v. Kleypas, 272 Kan. 894, 40 P.3d 139 (2001), is overruled.

27. On the record of this case, the...

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