Victim: Leavenworth judge letting repeat offenders off easy

LEAVENWORTH, Kan. - Kris Steuber’s life changed forever on May 25th, 2014.

Steuber lost part of his leg, and even worse, his wife, when the motorcycle they were riding was hit by an oncoming car.

The driver, Jaime Carter, not only had a suspended license, but was driving under the influence of five prescription drugs and methamphetamine.

“This isn't like, just, 'Oh I did a dumb thing, I made a mistake.' This is a pretty consistent thing that's been done for years and years and years, and so some of the disappointment in the court system, is that somebody like that, that continually missed court dates, probation hearings, all kinds of things,” Steuber said, who was most disappointed by the bond Carter was given.

Carter has a long record, including a prior meth conviction in Johnson County.

Leavenworth County Judge Gunnar Sundby gave Carter a $40,000 bond, which is an amount considered low by many in the legal community.

Carter posted it and was out free for months.

"The fact that it was so easy to get out after killing my wife, taking my children's mother, and taking my leg, it surprised me how easy it was,” Steuber said.

Stueber isn’t the only one surprised by some of Judge Sundby’s actions.

Judge Sundby's past cases

In February, our report about 57-year-old Lloyd Henson sparked questions and outrage from many of our viewers.

Henson was convicted of his 10th DUI in Leavenworth County. Prosecutors argued for the maximum sentence of one year behind bars. Documents show Judge Sundby sentenced Henson to 72 hours in jail and roughly five months and 27 days of house arrest.

Then there’s the case of Curtis Grice, who has more than a dozen theft-related convictions.

The standard sentence Grice faced was 14 months. Instead, the repeat offender received 60 days.

Judge Sundby responded to our request for comment about the sentences. He couldn’t address Carter’s bond, because the case is pending.

For Henson’s case, Judg Sundby said he did give him the maximum sentence, but court records don’t agree.

For Grice’s case, Judge Sundby said he gave him a shorter time behind bars because the jail was at capacity and the cost of incarceration was too high.

Ultimately, criminal sentencing falls on the backs of state lawmakers.

“If legislatures wanted to be more specific about how to handle those issues, legislatures could,” explained KU Law Professor Stephen Ware.

Ware said the legislature is responsible for creating the sentencing grid judges’ use. If someone has a problem with it, the blame is on lawmakers in Topeka and not necessarily the courts.

"I think when judges are doing something that displeases lots of people, it's usually a sincere disagreement about what the law requires or what's the right way for a judge to exercise his or her discretion,” Ware explained.

Some states write more defined laws, and others are more vague.

Ware said Kansas falls somewhere in the middle. Kansas gives judges some freedom, which explains why you may see harsher punishment in different counties.

“Customs develop in different places. It might even be neighboring counties. It might be two counties right next to each other, when the judges in one county tend to do things differently than the judges in another county,” Ware said.

"What if?"

For Steuber, his heartbreaking case is almost closed.

Jaime Carter was convicted on all three charges and will be sentenced next month.

Though he said he still wonders, “What if?”

"I'm not a prosecutor, a judge, or an attorney, it's just my opinion. But this person, maybe had they been kept in like they should have been, that this never would have happened,” Steuber said.

Judges in Leavenworth County are appointed by a judicial committee and receive final approval from the Governor. However, if a judge wants to retain his or her spot, the public must vote. The next retention vote in Leavenworth County is set for November of 2016.

41 Action News reached out to the Leavenworth County District Attorney’s Office for a comment on this report, but they declined.

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