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. Davis, 156 P.3d 665 (Kan. 2007).
This case addresses the following issue:
What are the ways that a complaint can be amended/modified?
This case explored the ways that a complaint can be modified. In this case, while the modified complaint was never written, filed, or recorded, the court held that it was not illegal because it did not prejudice the defendant and it did not raise any jurisdictional issues. Id. at 667.
This case revolved around a modification of a complaint at the close of the State’s evidence. Id. at 666. Originally, the defendant was charged with one count of first-degree murder which was alleged to have occurred on January 26, 2000. Id. Later, the defendant’s case was joined with other codefendants who were charged with crimes alleged to have occurred on January 24, 2000. Id. Therefore, the complaint was modified twice, and the third modification alleged that the defendant conspired to commit first-degree murder on January 24, 2000 as well as commit the murder on January 26, 2000. Id. After information came out that showed the defendant committed no crime on January 24, 2000, the State moved to modify the complaint a fourth time to show that January 26, 2000 was the only date that the defendant committed a crime. Id. However, this fourth modification was not written, filed, or recorded in a journal entry. Id. In the end, the defendant was found guilty of first-degree murder. Id.
The defendant argued that the district court lacked jurisdiction because the State had not recorded the fourth modification of the complaint, which the defendant felt caused him prejudice. Id. at 667. Further, the defendant’s arguments were based upon the requirement that the complaint should be a plain and concise “written” statement of the essential facts constituting the charged crime. Id. Additionally, the defendant argued that a modification of a complaint must be shown by the addition of writing on the complaint, by the filing of a modified complaint, or by a journal entry stating the modification the complaint. Id. Because the defendant believed the State failed to comply with these requirements, he argued the trial court lacked jurisdiction and did not have the power to make a decision on his case. Id.
The defendant was essentially arguing that his sentence was illegal and the court defined an illegal sentence as a sentence imposed by a court without jurisdiction, a sentence which does not conform to the statutory provision, either in character or the term of the punishment authorized, or a sentence which was vague with regard to the time and manner in which it was to be served. Id. After the court examined whether the defendant’s argument fell under any of these categories of an illegal sentence, they determined that the essence of the defendant’s argument was not a jurisdictional issue; rather, the essence was a prejudice issue. Id. at 666-67. With regards to the jurisdictional issue, the court quoted past Kansas law that held that the State’s failure to file a modified complaint after making an oral motion to do so did not deprive a trial court of subject matter jurisdiction over the defendant. Id. at 667. Furthermore, with regards to prejudice, the court noted that the State may orally modify a complaint at any time prior to the verdict if no additional or different crime was charged and if substantial rights of the defendant were not prejudiced. Id. In this case, the defendant was not charged with a different crime; rather, the date of the offense was changed. So, the defendant was not prejudiced by the modification of the complaint.