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. Brown, 299 Kan 1021 (Kan. 2014).
This case addresses the following issue:
What information must be in a complaint?
This case explores what information must be in a complaint. After the defendant argued that the State’s complaint did not specify the crimes of which he was was convicted, the court went on to explain what must be included in a complaint and stated that a complaint or information must contain a plain and concise written statement of the essential facts constituting the crime charged. Id. at 1008.
In this case, the defendant was charged with felony murder, aggravated burglary, and aggravated assault in district court. Id. at 1022. After the defendant’s girlfriend told him that she ran into a man that she believed had raped her two years prior, the defendant contacted his cousin and the two obtained guns and went to the man’s apartment. Id. at 1023. Upon entering the apartment, the two threatened an individual at gunpoint and demanded the location of the man. Id. The two then continued into the man’s bedroom and shot and killed him. Id. Originally, the defendant was charged with felony murder and aggravated assault. Id. However, the State modified the complaint and added two additional counts: one alternative count of first-degree premeditated murder and one count of aggravated burglary. Id. In the end, the jury found the defendant guilty of felony murder, aggravated burglary, and aggravated assault. Id.
The defendant argued that the district court did not have jurisdiction to convict him of felony murder and aggravated burglary. Id. at 1008. In arguing this, the defendant stated that the trial court did not have jurisdiction because the complaint did not specifically state these crimes. Id. The court then went on to explain the specifics of a complaint and noted that the complaint or information was the “jurisdictional instrument.” Id. Further, the court explained that if a crime was not specifically stated in the information or was not a lesser included offense of the charged crime, the district court does not have jurisdiction to convict a defendant of the crime, regardless of the evidence presented. Id. In essence, the defendant wanted the judgment to be deemed void due to lack of jurisdiction. Id.
When speaking of what information needed to be in the complaint, the court found that the complaint must contain a plain and concise written statement of the essential facts constituting the crime charged and the charging document was generally sufficient when it was drawn in the language of the statute. Id. Moreover, the court noted that a complaint was sufficient if it clearly informed the defendant of the precise offense of which the defendant was accused so that the defendant may prepare a defense and so that a judgment thereon would safeguard the defendant from a subsequent prosecution for the same offense. Id.
In the present case, the court found that both charges in the modified complaint were drawn in the language of the respective statutes defining the crimes. Id. Furthermore, the information adequately notified the defendant of what he was accused of doing so that he could not be prosecuted again for the same felony murder and aggravated burglary. Id. at 1009-09. In sum, the court held that the modified complaint was sufficient to give the district court jurisdiction to prosecute the defendant for felony murder and aggravated burglary. Id. at 1009.