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Kansas Capital Punishment Laws

Kansas has a unique relationship with the death penalty, demonstrated by its decision to abolish and reinstate the death penalty several times. The first time the death penalty was abolished was in 1907, but it was later reinstated in 1935. The death penalty was then struck down in 1972 by the U.S. Supreme Court in Furman v. Georgia. In 1994, the death penalty was reinstated again, but no one’s actually been executed since 1965, despite there being nine male inmates sentenced to death.

Kansas houses its “death row” inmates with other inmates rather than maintaining a separate death row. In addition, the U.S. Military houses its death row inmates at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. There are currently six former service members on death row in Fort Leavenworth.

Kansas Capital Punishment Procedures

As with many other states, a person who has committed capital murder can be sentenced to life imprisonment instead of the death penalty. The trial is divided into two parts, first a trial where the defendant’s guilt or innocence is determined. If the defendant is convicted of capital murder, then the second part, the sentencing trial, occurs. In the second trial, the jury hears the mitigating and aggravating circumstances and determines the appropriate sentence. Mitigating circumstances tend to lessen the degree of criminal responsibility while aggravating circumstances increase it due to the factors’ malicious nature, for example having prior violent felonies, torturing the victim, or killing a witness in an upcoming criminal trial.

In Kansas, if one or more aggravating factor(s) are found beyond a reasonable doubt by the jury and aren’t mitigated by other circumstances (i.e. the age of the defendant, suffering PTSD from abuse by the murder victim, or no significant criminal history), then the death penalty will be imposed. Otherwise, the defendant will receive life without the possibility of parole.

The following table explains more on death penalty laws in Kansas.

Code Sections Kansas Statutes Chapter 21, Article 66: Sentencing, includes capital murder procedures
21-5401: Capital Murder
Is Capital Punishment Allowed? Yes, Kansas permits the death penalty.
Effect of Defendant's Incapacity If a defendant is found to be a person with intellectual disability, then the death sentence, life without parole, and mandatory prison terms can’t be imposed.
Minimum Age Kansas law doesn’t permit a person who was under 18 at the time of a crime to be sentenced to death or receive life without the possibility of parole.

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court banned the execution of those who were juveniles when the crime occurred. Later, in 2012, the Supreme Court decided mandatory life imprisonment without parole for juveniles was unconstitutional.
Available for Crimes Other than Homicide? No, only certain homicides, specifically capital murder, can be sentenced to capital punishment.
Definition of Capital Homicide Capital murder is defined by Kansas law as an intentional and premeditated killing under any of the following circumstances:
  • Murder committed in the commission of, attempt to commit, or in flight from: kidnapping for ransom, rape, or criminal sodomy
  • Murder committed for hire or hiring one to commit murder
  • Killing a police officer intentionally
  • Serial killing, meaning more than one person under a common scheme or course of conduct
  • Murder committed while the defendant is in the custody of a prison or jail facility
  • Killing a child under 14 while kidnapping to commit a sex offense on the child
Method of Execution Kansas uses lethal injection to execute people sentenced to death, or would, if it executed anyone.

Note: State laws change frequently, contact an experienced Kansas criminal defense attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify these criminal laws.

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