CAN THE STATE AMEND OR MODIFY THE LANGUAGE ON A COMPLAINT?
Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.
State v. Bischoff, 131 P.3d 531 (Kan. 2006).
This case addresses the following issue:
Can the State amend/modify a complaint?
This case explores whether a State can amend/modify a complaint. Id. at 532. In the present case, the court held that the State could modify the complaint because the defendant made no showing of prejudice, the defendant had ample time to prepare after the complaint was modified, the added charge was based upon testimony at the preliminary hearing, the State relied on the same evidence at both the preliminary hearing and trial, and the defendant knew before trial which of his acts could support the aggravated assault charge. Id. at 539
On May 1, 2002, the defendant, a semi-truck driver, flashed his lights, honked his horn, and followed closely behind a driver for the span of eight miles. Id. at 533-34. When the driver got off an exit, the defendant sped up to get around the driver and abruptly stopped, causing the driver to slam on her brakes. Id. at 534. After both drivers were stopped, the defendant got out of his truck and approached the driver. Id. He then pulled on her door handle, yelled obscenities at her, and threatened her life. Id. The defendant was charged with one count of criminal threat, one count of reckless driving, and one count of following too closely. Id. Further, on May 30, 2002, the State filed a motion to modify the complaint to add the felony charge of aggravated assault. Id.
On July 23, 2002, the defendant filed a motion to dismiss, or in the alternative, for a bill of particulars. Id. at 534-35. The trial court denied both and a jury trial began eight months later. Id. at 535. The defendant requested an unanimity instruction (all must be in agreement) for the jury which the district court denied because the case was not a multiple acts case. Id. The jury found the defendant guilty of both counts and the defendant appealed. Id. The Court of Appeals affirmed the criminal threat conviction but reversed and remanded the aggravated assault conviction because it held that the case was a multiple acts case. Id.
The court determined that the case was not a multiple acts case so the question remaining was whether the defendant’s due process rights were violated when the court granted the State’s motion to modify the complaint while denying the defendant’s request for a bill of particulars. Id. at 538. Kansas law provided that “the court may permit a complaint or information to be amended at any time before verdict or finding if no additional or different crime was charged and if substantial rights of the defendant were not prejudiced.” Id. Furthermore, the court found that whether to allow the modification was subject to the district court’s discretion. Id. With this in mind, the court had consistently given the state considerable leeway in modifying a complaint prior to trial. Id. In fact, court discretion was considered abused only when no reasonable person would take the view adopted by the district court. Id.
The court next tackled the issue of failure to provide a second preliminary hearing on the modified charge of aggravated assault before the court bound the defendant over for trial. Id. The court found that Kansas had long held that a defendant may be charged with one offense and “bound over for another, if it appeared on the preliminary examination that he was guilty of a public offense other than that charged in the warrant.” Id. at 539. Additionally, with regards to the bill of particulars, the court found that there was no abuse of discretion in denying the bill of particulars where the record was clear that the defendant was not misled. Id. at 540.
In sum, the court reversed the Court of Appeals decision and held that the defendant’s due process rights were not violated when the court granted the State’s motion to modify the complaint while denying the defendant’s request for a bill of particulars. Id.