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Legislator Proposes Change To 'Hard 50'

A proposal for strengthening the "Hard 50" murder sentencing law in Kansas is likely to be considered next year by legislators.

Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce said he's drafted a bill to revise the law, which allows for defendants convicted of premeditated, first-degree murder to be sentenced to serve at least 50 years in prison. The proposal from the Hutchinson Republican comes only months after legislators had a special session to fix a flaw in the law.

Bruce said he wants to make the Hard 50 the presumed sentence for first-degree murder, with judges allowed to give a lesser punishment at a defendant's request in some circumstances. Kansas law currently requires prosecutors to seek the Hard 50, with juries deciding whether The Hard 50 is warranted instead of a sentence of life in prison without parole for 25 years.

The law had said judges would decide on the Hard 50, based on the circumstances of a crime, such as whether a defendant tortured a victim or fired into a crowd. But in June, the U.S. Supreme Court said in a Virginia case that juries, and not judges, had to determine whether to impose mandatory minimum sentences, and Kansas lawmakers made the fix during a two-day special session in September. Lawmakers will open their regular, annual session Jan. 13.

Rep. James Todd, an Overland Park Republican and attorney who serves on the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee, said he'd hesitate to change the law as Bruce proposed because it would be "shifting the burden" to the defendant in criminal cases.

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