State lawmakers have passed a bill that would prevent judges from reducing prison sentences for adult sex offenders if child victims are believed to be aggressors who contributed to the crime.

State lawmakers have passed a bill that would prevent judges from reducing prison sentences for adult sex offenders if child victims are believed to be aggressors who contributed to the crime.

The bill was adopted as part of a conference committee report that was passed in the Kansas Senate on Wednesday by a 37-3 vote. The bill previously had passed in the Kansas House of Representatives by 123-0, according to a state website.

All Leavenworth County members of the House and Senate voted for the bill, which includes other provisions to amend state laws dealing with things such as counterfeit money and the correction of illegal sentences.

The bill will now go to the governor for her signature.

Passage of the bill comes after Leavenworth County Judge Michael Gibbens drew criticism for comments he made during a sentencing hearing in December.

The judge sentenced Raymond E. Soden to 70 months, or five years and 10 months, in prison on Dec. 4.

Soden, 68, had pleaded no contest to the electronic solicitation charge Aug. 21, 2018. The crime had occurred earlier that year and involved communication Soden reportedly had with a 13-year-old girl through Facebook Messenger.

In sentencing Soden to 70 months, Gibbens granted a departure from what was considered the standard sentence under the state’s sentencing guidelines.

According to the transcript of the Dec. 4 sentencing hearing, the standard sentence would have been 176 months. But Deputy County Attorney Joan Lowdon said prosecutors had agreed not to recommend more than the mitigated sentence of 166 months, or 13 years and 10 months, as part of plea negotiations.

Soden’s attorney, Clinton Lee, cited several reasons in a written motion for a sentencing departure including an argument that the victim was an aggressor or participant in criminal conduct associated with the crime for which Soden was convicted.

Gibbens agreed that the victim in the case was an aggressor, and this was cited among the factors for the sentencing departure.

Gibbens drew criticism after the Kansas City Star published a story about the sentencing in February.

Currently, the law allows judges to reduce the length of prison sentences by finding the victim of certain crimes contributed to the criminal conduct by being an “aggressor.”

The bill passed by legislators would establish circumstances in which a judge could not consider this as a mitigating factor.

Under the bill, a victim would not be considered an aggressor in cases of a sexually violent crime or electronic solicitation when the "victim is less than 14 years of age and the offender is 18 or more years of age" or when "the offender hires any person by giving, or offering to or agreeing to give, anything of value to the person to engage in an unlawful sex act."

Ashley All, director of communications for Gov. Laura Kelly, said in an email that the governor's office typically does not comment on whether a bill will be signed until the governor has had the opportunity to review it.

However, Kelly released a statement regarding the bill.

"Judges must interpret and apply the law with common sense and an understanding of the real world, especially in child sex crime cases," Kelly said. "I was deeply troubled that any Kansas judge would view a child victim as an aggressor when an adult commits a sex crime. I look forward to reviewing this legislation when it hits my desk."

County Attorney Todd Thompson, whose office prosecuted the Soden case, supports changing the law.

“Children are just that, children,” he said in a news release. “They should not be viewed as aggressors when it comes to sex acts against them. I’m glad our legislators agree.”

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt has advocated for legislation that changes the law.

“No matter the child’s behavior, child victims are not responsible for the criminal conduct of adults who commit sex crimes against them,” Schmidt said in a news release.

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