Kansas lawmakers make sexual extortion a crime, raise penalties for eluding police

By: - May 10, 2021 11:00 am

Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, voted in favor a bundle of criminal justice bills but blasted the original bill for covering up a poorly tried case by the attorney general’s office. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — A criminal justice bill passed by the House and Senate makes sexual extortion a crime, enforces stronger penalties for attempting to elude a police officer and allows a spouse to be charged with sexual battery.

Senate Bill 60 passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, although some lawmakers took issue with a provision that amends a state statute dealing with when a person can be tried by Kansas courts. The provision arose out of a recent state Court of Appeals ruling that Kansas courts only had jurisdiction over an out-of-state crime that affected someone in Kansas if the criminal statute governing that crime considered the “negative consequences” of a crime.

Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, blasted the provision as an attempt to cover up a poorly tried lawsuit by the attorney general’s office where the office failed to prove the crime occurred in Kansas. While Carmichael was in favor of three provisions of the bill and ultimately voted in favor of the measure, he called out this section as a shoddy cover-up.

In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, a representative of the Kansas Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers spoke in opposition to the bill, calling it premature because litigation related to the issue is still pending.

SB 60 contains five bills that were bundled together when the House and Senate judiciary panels came together to iron out policy differences. The measure passed the House by a vote of 118 to 3 last week, and the Senate followed 40-0. The package now goes to Gov. Laura Kelly for approval.

A second provision would remove an exemption in current law shielding spouses from prosecution for sexual battery. The measure would make it a crime for one spouse to touch the other with “the intent to arouse or satisfy the sexual desires of the offender or another” without consent.

Sen. David Haley praised a provision of the criminal justice bundle removing a spousal exception for criminal battery for not only doing away with an antiquated policy but potentially addressing a growing backlog of sexual abuse cases. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Before being added to the crime bundle, the proposed change in law was introduced by Rep. Fred Patton, R-Topeka, on behalf of Rep. Brett Parker, D-Overland Park, and passed the House 110-13.

Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City, said the measure could provide relief to a growing backlog of domestic abuse cases yet to or unable to be addressed in Kansas.

“Sometimes it’s as clear as a bruised person coming in saying, ‘I’ve been abused. I’ve been struck. I’m the victim of a battery,’ and the immediate affirmative defense is this can’t be prosecuted because we’re married, and this has long troubled me, as it should others,” Haley said.

In the House Judiciary Committee hearing, nobody testified in opposition to the bill.

Patton expanded on another provision included in the bundle relating to a law described by sexual assault advocates as “archaic” and “misogynistic.” 

“This bill would also prohibit a court from requiring a victim of a crime to undergo a psychological examination during the prosecution for such crime,” Patton said. “It did pass out of House Judiciary, but it was too late to bring it above the floor, so you have not had the chance to vote on it before. But again, it was supported by the advocates against sexual violence and prosecutors across the state, and it passed unanimously on the other side.”

The rule in Kansas allowing psychiatric or psychological examination of a witness stems from a 1979 Kansas Supreme Court case that relied on “outdated and false understandings of criminal sexual abuse,” said Todd Thompson, of the Kansas County and District Attorneys Association, in testimony to the House Judiciary Committee.

A similar bill that failed last year targeted evaluations for only victims of sexual abuse, but legislators amended the measure to include victims of all crimes.

In yet another provision, someone who flees a police officer while driving a stolen vehicle would face a level 9 felony. It would also make knowingly driving the wrong way to evade an officer a level 7 felony.

“There’s rampant auto theft in Kansas,” said Sen. Kellie Warren, R-Leawood. “The bill amends the penalty as well. Again, a tough-on-crime piece.”

Some supporters of the bill pointed to incidents like that of Sen. Gene Suellentrop, a Wichita Republican who was arrested for fleeing an officer after driving under the influence on the wrong side of the highway, as a reason to strengthen these laws. 

The final bill included in the package would make it a felony crime to threaten to injure a person or the reputation of a person, through the distribution of an image, video or other recordings of a person that is sexual in nature.

“It is important to recognize that blackmail, coercion, and abuse of power are often used in cases of domestic violence and sexual violence to compel a victim to comply with the desires of the perpetrator,” said Sarah Rust-Martin, legal and policy director for KCSDV. “All victims deserve to be safe from this type of blackmail or intrusion.”

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Noah Taborda
Noah Taborda

Noah Taborda started his journalism career in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri, covering local government and producing an episode of the podcast Show Me The State while earning his bachelor’s degree in radio broadcasting at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Noah then made a short move to Kansas City, Missouri, to work at KCUR as an intern on the talk show Central Standard and then in the newsroom, reporting on daily news and feature stories.