The Kansas Supreme Court today reversed a Wyandotte County court decision that denied a man convicted of second-degree murder the opportunity for post-conviction DNA testing.
The high court sent the case back to Wyandotte County District Court, which will determine if he can satisfy the remaining statutory requirements.
Jerome Cheeks appealed the denial of his petition for post-conviction DNA testing. He was convicted of second-degree murder in 1993 by a Wyandotte County jury and sentenced to 15 years to life.
More than 10 years after his conviction, he filed a petition for DNA testing of material collected from the crime scene, according to court documents. The district court denied the petition because state law says only those convicted of first-degree murder and rape may petition for DNA testing.
Cheeks’ attorneys challenged the law under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, claiming the statute treats people in similar situations differently.
Cheeks also claimed a Fifth Amendment due process right to post-conviction DNA testing.
The high court today agreed that the Kansas law violated the Fourth Amendment Equal Protection Clause, and the court did not address the Fifth Amendment issue.
But the court stated that its decision only applied to a smaller group of people, those sentenced to the maximum 15 years to life for second-degree murder, because that group was similar to those sentenced for first-degree murder.
Two justices, Dan Biles and Eric S. Rosen, disagreed with the majority and wrote dissents in favor of upholding the statute. Chief Justice Lawton Nuss agreed with the majority that the statute was problematic, but he would have struck the statute rather than expanding it.
It was not the first appeal for Jerome Cheeks. In 2005, the Kansas Supreme Court upheld his second-degree murder conviction. He was convicted in the 1992 death of his wife.
Today's court decision is online at http://www.kscourts.org/Cases-and-Opinions/opinions/SupCt/2013/20131004/104858.pdf.