Obscenity Claims Against Spencer Gifts Tossed

     TOPEKA, Kan. (CN) — The Kansas Supreme Court overruled its own precedent by upholding the dismissal of an obscenity complaint against Spencer Gifts.
     Kansas filed a complaint against Spencer Gifts in 2010, charging the novelty shop with 10 counts of promoting obscenity harmful to minors. Authorities claimed Spencer Gifts displayed sex toys, pictures of nude women, lewd clothing and wind-up toys simulating sex acts near items marketed towards children such as Teenage Mutant Ninja merchandise and Sesame Street clothing.
     Years later, according to court documents, Spencer Gifts filed for dismissal claiming a statutory speedy trial violation.
     Kansas’ speedy trial statute, K.S.A. 2015 Supp. 22-3402(b), provides in relevant part: “If any person charged with a crime and held to answer on an appearance bond shall not be brought to trial within 180 days after arraignment on the charge, such person shall be entitled to be discharged from further liability to be tried for the crime charged.”
     Though Spencer Gifts was not held to answer on an appearance bond, the company sought relief under the law.
     A federal court granted dismissal and Kansas appealed. The Court of Appeals upheld the federal court’s decision based on precedent set by the Kansas Supreme Court’s decision in City of Elkhart vs. Bollacker, which held the legislature intended for the statute to apply even when a defendant had not been held on an appearance bond.
     In appealing to the state’s high court, Kansas argued that the statute did not apply against Spencer Gifts because there was no appearance bond, any contrary ruling in Bollacker should be overturned, Spencer Gifts did not have speedy trial rights because it is a corporation and that dismissal is not required under the statute if originally caused by the defendant.
     The Kansas Supreme Court found on Friday that the Bollacker precedent is at odds with its rules of statutory interpretation.
     “We are cognizant of the fact that Spencer Gifts, and those in Spencer Gifts’ position, could have placed some reliance on statutory speedy trial under Bollacker,” Justice Marla J. Luckert wrote. “But what this case turns on is bigger than both the facts presented here and the legal issue the case contains. Certainly, adherence to the Bollacker precedent would ensure stability on this particular issue, i.e., whether statutory speedy trial applies to a defendant not held to answer on an appearance bond. But the stability gained on that one issue is at the expense of the stability of our legal system: litigants, courts, and the legislature must be able to rely on the fact that statutory language drives the law in Kansas. And here, K.S.A. 2015 Supp. 22-3402(b) by its language does not apply to a defendant never held on an appearance bond.”
     Even with the ruling overturning Bollacker, the court found it did not apply to Spencer Gifts.
     “Still, Bollacker was good law when the district court dismissed the case against Spencer Gifts and the Court of Appeals affirmed—there was no error in the lower courts,” Luckert wrote. “Hierarchically lower courts are required to follow our precedent absent indication that we are departing from our precedent. And because we have changed the law on this point in detriment to Spencer Gifts, we find that the rule we express in this decision does not apply so as to reinstate the State’s case against Spencer Gifts.”

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