State v. Trautloff

Decision Date09 October 2009
Docket NumberNo. 100,425.,100,425.
Citation217 P.3d 15
PartiesSTATE of Kansas, Appellee, v. Melvin TRAUTLOFF, Appellant.
CourtKansas Supreme Court

Shawn E. Minihan, of Kansas Appellate Defender Office, argued the cause and was on the brief for the appellant.

Chad Sublet, assistant county attorney, argued the cause, and Heather R. Jones, county attorney, and Steve Six, attorney general, were on the brief for the appellee.

The opinion of the court was delivered by ROSEN, J.:

Melvin Trautloff appeals from his convictions for one count of rape, K.S.A. 21-3502(a)(2), one count of aggravated criminal sodomy, K.S.A. 21-3506(a)(1), one count of aggravated indecent liberties with a child, K.S.A. 21-3504(a)(3), and one count of sexual exploitation of a child, K.S.A. 21-3516(a)(6).

J.M. is the mother of R.M., who was born on April 19, 1999. J.M. first met Trautloff in February 2006, and they developed a romantic relationship. J.M. subsequently arranged to buy a car through Trautloff, agreeing to pay him $50 every 2 weeks. According to J.M.'s testimony, Trautloff agreed to reduce the payment by $50 if J.M. "gave him" R.M. for "sexual activity." J.M. complied, and in July 2006 she "gave" R.M. to Trautloff, leaving the 7-year-old girl with him at his truck. J.M. testified to additional sexual liaisons involving herself, R.M., and Trautloff in July and August 2006.

Trautloff was admitted into the Franklin County jail on August 24, 2006, on a parole violation. He was subsequently transferred to Lansing Correctional Facility on the violation and was released on November 30, 2006. While he was incarcerated, Trautloff sent a number of letters to J.M., in which he made frequent graphic references to past and prospective sexual acts involving R.M.

At the end of April 2007, Trautloff, who was again incarcerated on parole violations, asked a friend to clean out his truck and house. In the house, the friend found "disturbing" letters, which she turned over to the local police department. Recordings were made of telephone calls from Trautloff to the friend and to J.M. In the course of these calls, Trautloff urgently asked the women to recover some items that he deemed to be very important from his premises. These items later proved to include the correspondence exchanged between Trautloff and J.M.

The State charged Trautloff with one count of rape, one count of aggravated criminal sodomy, one count of aggravated indecent liberties with a child, and one count of sexual exploitation of a child. J.M. pled guilty to rape, aggravated criminal sodomy, and attempted aggravated indecent liberties with a child. She testified against Trautloff at his trial.

J.M. testified that, following Trautloff's release from Lansing, he had sexual relations with R.M. some 20 times between December 1, 2006, and April 20, 2007. She recounted in detail several of the events. In February 2007, J.M. picked R.M. up from school in the morning and took her to meet Trautloff on at least three occasions. During each of these encounters, J.M. helped undress R.M., and Trautloff then engaged in digital and oral sex with R.M. before ejaculating in and on her vagina. At Trautloff's request, J.M. took photographs of some of these encounters on a cell phone camera and made at least one video recording. J.M. then helped R.M. clean up and get dressed, drove R.M. to get something to eat, and returned R.M. to school.

Forensic examiners were later able to retrieve sexually explicit photographs from J.M.'s phone, and these photographs were introduced into evidence. Based on other photographs of Trautloff and R.M. and based on the testimony of witnesses, several of the photographs are of a girl who resembles R.M. and of a man who resembles Trautloff. The other photographs are close-ups of genitalia. At trial, Trautloff contended that he was not the man depicted in the photographs and that he was merely indulging J.M.'s fantasies in his letters. He denied having any sexual relationship with R.M.

The jury found Trautloff guilty of all four charged counts, and the district court sentenced him to life without parole for the rape conviction, life without parole for the aggravated criminal sodomy conviction, life without parole for the aggravated indecent liberties with a child conviction, and life without parole for the sexual exploitation of a child conviction, with all sentences running concurrently. He timely appealed.

I. Did The District Court Err When It Sentenced Trautloff To Life In Prison Without The Possibility Of Parole?

Trautloff initially contends that he did not meet the prerequisite prior convictions required by statute for enhancing his sentence to life without the possibility of parole. This issue turns on the meaning of the statutory phrase "prior conviction event."

On July 24, 1996, in case number 96CR122, Trautloff was convicted of one count of aggravated indecent liberties with a 9-year-old child, one count of aggravated indecent liberties with an 8-year-old child, and one count of rape of an 8-year-old third child. The Kansas Court of Appeals affirmed one of the two convictions of aggravated indecent liberties and the rape conviction but reversed the second aggravated indecent liberties conviction. State v. Trautloff, No. 77,772, 960 P.2d 267, unpublished opinion by the Court of Appeals filed April 24, 1998, rev. denied 265 Kan. 889 (1998).

In the present case, the district court relied on the two prior convictions that were upheld on appeal to sentence Trautloff to terms of life imprisonment without parole. The question presented on appeal is whether the prior convictions constituted a single conviction event or multiple conviction events, as defined by the legislature.

K.S.A. 21-4642(a) provides that aggravated habitual sex offenders "shall be sentenced to imprisonment for life without the possibility of parole." The statute defines an aggravated habitual sex offender to be "a person who, on and after July 1, 2006:(A) Has been convicted in this state of a sexually violent crime . . .; and (B) prior to the conviction of the felony under subparagraph (A), has been convicted on at least two prior conviction events of any sexually violent crime." K.S.A. 21-4642(c)(1).

The statute defines "prior conviction event" as "one or more felony convictions of a sexually violent crime occurring on the same day and within a single count. These convictions may result from multiple counts within an information or from more than one information." K.S.A. 21-4642(c)(2). Resolving this issue requires understanding the meaning of the words "within a single count."

Interpretation of a statute is a question of law over which this court has unlimited review. State v. Storey, 286 Kan. 7, 9-10, 179 P.3d 1137 (2008). An appellate court's first task in construing a statute is to "ascertain the legislature's intent through the statutory language it employs, giving ordinary words their ordinary meaning." State v. Stallings, 284 Kan. 741, 742, 163 P.3d 1232 (2007). When a statute is plain and unambiguous, this court will not speculate as to the legislative intent behind it and will not read the statute to add something not readily found in it. In that situation, the court does not need to resort to statutory construction. It is only if the statutory language or text is unclear or ambiguous that the court moves to the next analytical step, applying canons of construction or relying on legislative history to construe the statute to give effect to the legislature's intent. In re K.M.H., 285 Kan. 53, 79, 169 P.3d 1025 (2007).

As a general rule, criminal statutes must be strictly construed in favor of the accused. Any reasonable doubt as to the meaning of the statute is decided in favor of the accused. Nevertheless, this rule of strict construction is subordinate to the rule that judicial interpretation must be reasonable and sensible to effect legislative design and intent. State v. Paul, 285 Kan. 658, 662, 175 P.3d 840 (2008).

The difficulty in the present case is the lack of harmony between two parts of the statutory definition of a prior conviction event. Trautloff's prior convictions were for multiple felonies involving sexually violent crimes contained in the same information; these convictions occurred on the same day but not "within a single count." Because it is not possible for more than one felony conviction to occur within a single count, as the statute posits, it is appropriate to look into the history of the legislation and to apply the canons of statutory construction to determine the legislature's intent.

A review of the legislative minutes relating to the enactment of K.S.A. 21-4642 in 2006 reveals no discussion of section (c)(2). It is likely that the legislature drew the "conviction event" language from older versions of the sentencing guidelines. See K.S.A.1993 Supp. 21-4703; K.S.A.1993 Supp. 21-4720(b)(4). K.S.A.1993 Supp. 21-4720(b)(4) provided in part: "The total sentence assigned for a current conviction event cannot exceed twice the base sentence." A conviction event was defined as "one or more felony convictions occurring on the same day and within a single court. These convictions may result from multiple counts within an information or from more than one information." (Emphasis added.) K.S.A.1993 Supp. 21-4703(c). The legislature deleted these references to conviction events in 1994. See L.1994, ch. 291, secs. 49 and 59.

As a general rule, courts should read statutes to avoid unreasonable results and should presume that the legislature does not intend to enact useless or meaningless legislation. Board of Sumner County Comm'rs v. Bremby, 286 Kan. 745, 754, 189 P.3d 494 (2008). We conclude that the wording of K.S.A. 21-4642(c)(2) is the product of a typographical error and that the legislature intended to include convictions occurring on the same day and within a single court. We are confirmed in this conclusion by the legislature's correction of the statute in ...

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