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Kansas Supreme Court: Correcting Illegal Sentence After Fully Served Violates Prohibition Against Double Jeopardy

by Matt Clarke

In a case of first impression, the Supreme Court of Kansas held it was double jeopardy to correct the sentence of a man who was convicted of aggravated sexual battery—to impose the lifetime post-release supervision mandated by statute after his illegally-imposed sentence had been completely served. 

On August 10, 2009, Alfred Van Lehman, Jr., pleaded guilty to aggravated sexual battery in a Kansas state district court. Pursuant to a plea bargain, he was sentenced to 31 months in prison followed by 24 months of post-release supervision. 

About three years later, the Kansas Department of Corrections (“DOC”) notified the Sedwick County district attorney’s office that Lehman’s post-release supervision term was in error as K.S.A. 22-3717(d)(l)(G) mandates that a person convicted of a sexually violent offense serve a mandatory lifetime of post-release supervision.

About a year later, the State filed a motion to correct the illegal sentence to reflect the mandatory lifelong post-release supervision. The court appointed Lehman an attorney, but before a hearing on the motion was held, the DOC discharged Lehman from post-release supervision after having served the full 24 months.

At the hearing, the district court ruled that Lehman’s discharge did not prevent it from correcting the illegal sentence. It placed Lehman on lifetime post-release supervision. Lehman appealed. 

The court of appeals ruled that an illegal sentence could be corrected “at any time,” and the State’s filing of a motion to correct the sentence before the sentence expired meant Lehman had no legitimate reason to believe his sentence was final when he discharged it. According to the court, this eliminated double-jeopardy concerns. Aided by Kansas Appellate Defender Ryan J. Eddinger, Lehman sought review and was granted review by the Kansas Supreme Court. 

Both parties agreed that the 24-month term of post-release supervision did not conform to the statutory provision and was thus illegal. 

The Supreme Court quickly rejected Lehman’s argument that, under the doctrine of invited error, the State could not challenge the sentence it had requested. Neither did the court accept Lehman’s argument that “basic contract principles” should bind the State to the 24-month post-release supervision period it agreed to. 

However, the Court agreed with Lehman that the imposition of a corrected sentence after he fully completed the original sentence, even though illegal, constitutes a violation of the prohibition against double jeopardy under both the U.S. and Kansas Constitutions. 

The specific protection embodied in the guarantee against double jeopardy implicated in this case is the prohibition “against multiple punishments for the same offense.” North Carolina v. Pearce, 395 U.S. 711 (1969). Citing United States v. DiFrancesco, 449 U.S. 117 (1980), the Court explained that “when considering whether a subsequent increase in the severity of a criminal sentence constitutes a double jeopardy violation, the appropriate inquiry is whether the defendant had a legitimate expectation of finality in his or her sentence.” Although the Kansas Supreme Court had not yet addressed this specific issue, it observed that several U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals have, as well as courts in other states, and they have reached the same conclusion argued for by Lehman.  That is, a defendant “has a legitimate expectation of finality in an illegal sentence after that sentence has been fully served….”  

After discussing several opinions from other jurisdictions, the Court agreed with the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Fourth, Seventh, and Eighth Circuit and the highest state courts of New York, New Jersey, Iowa, Alabama, and Massachusetts in holding that an illegal sentence cannot be corrected after it expires. It concluded that “when Lehman completed his original sentence—even if illegal—without a court order that superseded the judgement … he was no longer subject to the jurisdiction of the criminal justice system.” The expiration of the sentence gave Lehman a legitimate expectation of finality. Thus, any further sentence imposed upon him at that point for the same offense “constitutes a multiple punishment proscribed by the double jeopardy provisions of our federal and state constitutions,” the Court ruled.  

Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded with directions to discharge Lehman. See: State v. Van Lehman, 427 P.3d 840 (Kan. 2018). 

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