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. Earley, 386 P.2d 189 (Kan. 1963).
This case answers the following question:
Are the evidence rules the same at the preliminary hearing as at trial?
The issue in this case is whether the evidence rules are the same at the preliminary hearing as at the trial. Hearsay is allowed in a preliminary hearing when a statute authorizes it; state legislation relaxing the rules of evidence is not unconstitutional.
In this case, a man named Emmons was sent to Crawford county to assist local police with frequent nighttime burglaries. On September 24, 1962 at 10pm, Emmons heard that an open window had been discovered at the local high school. A janitor reportedly closed the window, and everything appeared to be good. Around midnight, Emmons parked his car a block away from the high school. Emmons saw three men appear from a vacant lot near the school. The men got into a car and drove up the street past Emmons. Emmons pursued the vehicle and stopped the men for questioning. Finley and Denny got out of the vehicle while Earley remained in the backseat of the car. Emmons approached the car and saw a pistol laying on the backseat. Law enforcement officers arrived on scene and frisked all three men. The officers found burglary tools in the vehicle and arrested all three men for investigation of burglary. The men were bound over to the district court for trial from the preliminary hearing. All three men applied for habeas corpus, contending their arrest was illegal, evidence obtained through search and seizure as a result of the illegal arrest was wrongfully obtained and inadmissible, and no probable cause existed for leading officers to believe a crime had been committed which makes the arrest legal. The district court denied the applications, and the defendants appealed.
Hearsay is allowed in a preliminary hearing when a statute authorizes it; state legislation relaxing the rules of evidence is not unconstitutional. The trial rules of evidence are not the standard for a preliminary hearing. At a preliminary hearing, the rules of evidence are loosened. The purpose of a preliminary hearing is to determine that a crime has been committed and to give the defendant general information about the nature of the crime charged. Further, the purpose of a preliminary hearing is to inform the defendant of the sort of evidence that he will be required to meet when he faces a final prosecution in the district court. The preliminary hearing need not be as rigorous as a trial. Evidence used at a preliminary hearing may not be admissible at trial, but that does not mean it should be excluded from the preliminary hearing. As long as an attempt has been made to give the defendant a preliminary hearing and he has been given some notice of the nature of the offense charged, the examination will be deemed sufficient, having served its principal purpose.
The Supreme Court of Kansas affirmed the decision of the district court. The court held that the rules of evidence at a preliminary are relaxed compared to the rules of evidence at trial. Therefore, the district court did not err when it denied the issuance of the writs of habeas corpus.