State v. Baumgarner

Citation481 P.3d 170
Decision Date22 January 2021
Docket NumberNo. 121,092,121,092
Parties STATE of Kansas, Appellee, v. Dameon V. BAUMGARNER, Appellant.
CourtCourt of Appeals of Kansas

Randall L. Hodgkinson, of Kansas Appellate Defender Office, for appellant.

Kerwin L. Spencer, county attorney, and Derek Schmidt, attorney general, for appellee.

Before Atcheson, P.J., Schroeder and Warner, JJ.

Atcheson, J.:

The Kansas Legislature has criminalized the possession of a firearm by a person "who is or has been ... subject to involuntary commitment" because of mental illness. K.S.A. 2019 Supp. 21-6301(a)(13). This case requires us to determine what the State must prove to establish the element of the crime pertaining to mental status. We conclude conviction demands proof beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant has or had a mental illness that would permit his or her involuntary commitment.

During a jury trial in Sumner County District Court in April 2018, the only evidence the State offered to prove Defendant Dameon V. Baumgarner's mental illness as an element of a charge for unlawfully possessing a firearm in violation of K.S.A. 2017 Supp. 21-6301(a)(13) was an order from a civil commitment proceeding two years earlier. In that civil proceeding, the district court found by clear and convincing evidence that Baumgarner was a mentally ill person subject to involuntary commitment. Because the clear and convincing standard for adjudication in a commitment proceeding is less rigorous than proof beyond a reasonable doubt required for a criminal conviction, the State did not submit sufficient evidence to prove an essential element of the criminal charge against Baumgarner. We, therefore, reverse Baumgarner's felony conviction for violating K.S.A. 2017 Supp. 21-6301(a)(13), vacate his sentence, and enter a judgment of acquittal.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Given the comparatively narrow statutory issue on which we decide this case, the salient facts are few.

In 2015, the State filed a civil action in the district court to have Baumgarner adjudicated a mentally ill person who could then be involuntarily committed for treatment, as provided in the Care and Treatment Act for Mentally Ill Persons, K.S.A. 59-2945 et seq. The circumstances prompting that action are not readily apparent from the record in this criminal prosecution.

A proceeding under the Care and Treatment Act may be initiated with both a verified petition stating facts the petitioner believes show the subject to be mentally ill and in need of involuntary commitment and a signed certificate from a mental health professional that the subject "is likely" a mentally ill person subject to involuntary commitment. K.S.A. 59-2957. The subject may request a trial to a jury or the district court at which the petitioner must prove by clear and convincing evidence the subject meets the statutory definition of a mentally ill person subject to involuntary commitment. K.S.A. 59-2965 (right to trial); K.S.A. 2019 Supp. 59-2966(a) (burden of proof at trial). Following a bench trial in September 2015, the district court entered an order finding by clear and convincing evidence that Baumgarner was then a mentally ill person subject to involuntary commitment for care and treatment. As permitted under the Care and Treatment Act, the district court ordered Baumgarner to participate in outpatient treatment through a community based mental health service rather than committing him for inpatient care. See K.S.A. 2019 Supp. 59-2967(a) (outpatient treatment as authorized alternative to inpatient commitment).

As we have indicated, K.S.A. 2019 Supp. 21-6301(a)(13) proscribes "possessing any firearm by a person who is or has been a mentally ill person subject to involuntary commitment for care and treatment" as a form of "criminal use of weapons" designated a severity level 8 nonperson felony. In 2017, law enforcement officers received information that Baumgarner had a rifle. At the time, Baumgarner was living in his father's home in Wellington. Investigators determined Baumgarner's father kept a rifle in the closet in his bedroom, and other evidence suggested Baumgarner owned and had a possessory interest in the gun. They seized the rifle because it apparently had been stolen before coming into the Baumgarners' possession.

The State ultimately charged Baumgarner with one count of violating K.S.A. 2017 Supp. 21-6301(a)(13) for possession of the rifle and one count of interference with a law enforcement officer, a felony violation of K.S.A. 2017 Supp. 21-5904, for making ostensibly misleading statements to investigators about who in the family acquired the rifle. After several delays, a jury heard the case in April 2018.

The morning of trial, the prosecutor asked the district court to take judicial notice of and admit as evidence numerous filings from the 2015 proceeding against Baumgarner under the Care and Treatment Act. Citing the late request, the district court limited the State to introducing the order adjudicating Baumgarner to be a mentally ill person. The prosecutor offered the order, and the district court duly admitted it without objection from Baumgarner. The State presented no other evidence regarding Baumgarner's mental health. Various witnesses testified to the physical whereabouts of the rifle and some of Baumgarner's statements about the gun. Given our resolution of the appeal, we do not delve into the evidence regarding possession of the rifle. Baumgarner did not testify in his own defense and offered no other evidence. At the close of the evidence, the district court dismissed the unlawful interference charge, and it has no bearing on this appeal.

The jurors convicted Baumgarner of unlawful use of a weapon for possessing the rifle—the only charge presented to them. The district court later sentenced Baumgarner to serve 10 months in prison and placed him on probation for 18 months, reflecting a standard guidelines sentence based on his criminal history. Baumgarner has appealed.

LEGAL ANALYSIS

On appeal, Baumgarner challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support the two key elements of the possession of a firearm charge: (1) his mental health status; and (2) his control over the rifle. As to the first, Baumgarner's opening brief focused on ostensible inconsistencies in the 2015 order of adjudication. Those are more imagined than real. During oral argument, the lawyer representing Baumgarner also asserted that the order of adjudication, as the only evidence bearing on the mental health element, was inadequate because the findings had been proved by clear and convincing evidence rather than beyond a reasonable doubt.

After oral argument, we directed the parties to submit supplemental briefs on the mental health element and what K.S.A. 2019 Supp. 21-6301(a)(13) specifically criminalizes. They have done so, and those supplemental briefs largely guide our resolution of this appeal.

In reviewing a sufficiency challenge, we construe the evidence in a light most favorable to the party prevailing in the district court, here the State, and in support of the jury's verdict. An appellate court will neither reweigh the evidence generally nor make credibility determinations specifically. State v. Jenkins , 308 Kan. 545, Syl. ¶ 1, 422 P.3d 72 (2018) ; State v. Butler , 307 Kan. 831, 844-45, 416 P.3d 116 (2018) ; State v. Pham , 281 Kan. 1227, 1252, 136 P.3d 919 (2006). The issue for review is simply whether rational jurors could have found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Butler , 307 Kan. at 845, 416 P.3d 116 ; State v. McBroom , 299 Kan. 731, 754, 325 P.3d 1174 (2014). Concomitantly, however, the State must present evidence that, if believed, would prove each element of the charged crime beyond a reasonable doubt. See In re Winship , 397 U.S. 358, 364, 90 S. Ct. 1068, 25 L. Ed. 2d 368 (1970) ("[W]e explicitly hold that the Due Process Clause protects the accused against conviction except upon proof beyond a reasonable doubt of every fact necessary to constitute the crime with which he is charged."); State v. Dobbs , 297 Kan. 1225, 1238, 308 P.3d 1258 (2013) (recognizing "constitutional requirement that the State prove every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt").

The sufficiency of the evidence, therefore, has to be measured against what the State must prove to convict. We, thus, face a predicate issue of statutory construction in deciding Baumgarner's sufficiency challenge. As we have outlined, the statutory language proscribes possession of a firearm "by a person who is or has been a mentally ill person subject to involuntary commitment for care and treatment." K.S.A. 2019 Supp. 21-6301(a)(13). In our request to the parties for supplemental briefing, we asked them to tell us what that part of the statute means—a question of law over which we exercise plenary review. See State v. Murdock , 299 Kan. 312, 314, 323 P.3d 846 (2014) (interpretation of statute entails question of law given unlimited appellate review).

The State submits K.S.A. 2019 Supp. 21-6301(a)(13) requires proof that the criminal defendant has been adjudicated a mentally ill person subject to involuntary commitment. In other words, the element of the crime is the fact of adjudication as a mentally ill person. Baumgarner, not surprisingly, disagrees and says the element entails presently having or having had in the past a mental illness of the kind that would permit involuntary commitment under the Care and Treatment Act. That is, the State must prove the defendant's status as having or having had such a mental illness, rendering an adjudication under the Care and Treatment Act effectively immaterial.

We necessarily filter those responses through well-accepted principles of statutory review. When reviewing a statute, an appellate court must, as a first priority, strive to honor the legislative intent and purpose. In re Marriage of Traster , 301 Kan. 88, 98, 339 P.3d 778 (2014). The court should look to the words of the statute to...

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    • United States
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    ...evidence." K.S.A. 60-405 similarly contains no legislative exceptions to its preservation requirement. Accord State v. Baumgarner , 59 Kan. App. 2d 330, 335, 481 P.3d 170 (2021) ("A reviewing appellate court must take care to avoid adding something to a statute or negating something already......
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