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Kansas Supreme Court Orders New Trial in Reno County Case

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By Lucky Kidd

 

HUTCHINSON, Kan. — The Kansas Supreme Court has ordered a new trial for a Hutchinson man whose testimony in his own defense from an April 2019 case was halted and struck from the record during his trial.

Reversing a Kansas Court of Appeals decision, the Supreme Court found Reno County District Judge Trish Rose’s decision to strike testimony of John Cantu during his 2021 trial on felony stalking, violation of protection orders, criminal damage to property, criminal trespass and felony criminal threat violated Cantus’ constitutional right to testify in his own behalf, what it said is a fundamental right grounded in multiple provisions of the United States Constitution.

The case originated from an alleged stalking incident in late March, 2019 and violations of a protection from abuse order in January and February, 2019.

Judge Rose ordered Cantu’s testimony halted after during cross examination he interrupted a prosecutor by trying to explain a previous answer. The judge then granted a prosecution motion to strike Cantu’s testimony. At trial the jury acquitted Cantu to criminal trespass and the Court of Appeals set aside two convictions for stalking and violating protective orders, affirming criminal threat and criminal damage convictions.

The opinion, written by Justice Melissa Standridge, held that the “complete and improper denial of the right to testify is a structural error requiring automatic reversal of a conviction.” The court emphasized the right to testify is an integral part of due process in ensuring a fair trial and cautioned state courts from completely depriving a defendant of this constitutional right without sufficient justification and balancing the competing, legitimate interests at stake.