A Leavenworth man's 2009 conviction for criminal sodomy has been overturned by the Kansas Supreme Court.
The case of Lester E. Lawson, who received a life sentence, is being remanded back to Leavenworth County District Court for a new trial. His conviction was reversed in a unanimous Kansas Supreme Court decision released Friday.
The court's decision focused on statements Lawson made to a police officer without his attorney being present.
"Finding that law enforcement officers denied Lawson his statutory right to the assistance of counsel at a critical stage of the proceedings, we reverse and remand for a new trial," Justice Lee A. Johnson stated in the decision he wrote for the court.
Lawson, 44, was convicted in May 2009 of two counts of aggravated criminal sodomy of a child less than 14 years of age. He was accused of molesting a boy between August 2006 and September 2007 in Leavenworth. The boy was 11 and 12 years of age at the time.
Lawson received the life sentence as a result of what is known as Jessica's Law.
Meryl Carver-Allmond, an attorney with the state Appellate Defender Office, represented Lawson for the appeal.
"I'm very, very pleased with the decision," she said Friday.
She said the case will be an important one in the state in terms of the issue of right to counsel.
According to a factual overview in the court's decision, Lawson made his first District Court appearance in the case March 10, 2008.
The district court's judges notes indicate a defense attorney was present on Lawson's behalf. And an application from Lawson for a court-appointed attorney was filed that same day.
The next day, a member of the Leavenworth Police Department escorted Lawson from the County Jail to the Leavenworth police station, which is located in the same building.
Lawson was advised of his Miranda rights and signed a waiver.
The officer conducted a polygraph examination and interview. While speaking with the officer, Lawson reportedly admitted having sexual contact with the boy, according to the factual summary in the court's decision.
Lawson later said he thought the officer, who was dressed in a coat and tie, was his court-appointed attorney. The officer said he didn't know Lawson had an attorney.
Before the start of Lawson's trial, a hearing was held to determine the admissibility of evidence regarding the statements he made to the officer while his attorney was not present.
The judge ruled the statements were admissible, but the prosecution was prevented from informing the jury they were obtained in connection with a polygraph examination.
In the decision written by Johnson, the Supreme Court justices found that "Lawson definitely asserted his right to counsel at a court proceeding when he submitted an application for court-appointed counsel at the first appearance. The police initiated its interrogation of Lawson the day after he asserted his right to counsel."
Page 2 of 2 - "We find that the district court erred in refusing to suppress the uncounseled statement Lawson made during the police-initiated interrogation after Lawson had invoked his right to the assistance of counsel," Johnson wrote in another part of the decision.
County Attorney Todd Thompson said Friday he doesn't know yet if prosecutors in his office will proceed with another trial.
He said the case will have to be reprocessed minus certain elements.