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. Washington, 239 Kan. 732 (2012).
This case answers the following question:
At the preliminary hearing, what does the evidence need to show to bind a defendant over to trial?
The issue in this case included whether there was enough evidence presented at the preliminary hearing to bind the defendant over for trial? The role of the magistrate at the preliminary hearing is to examine the evidence and determine (1) if a crime has been committed, and (2) whether there is probable cause to believe that the accused committed the crime. Id. at 734. The Court noted that the probable cause standard at a preliminary examination must only present evidence sufficient “to cause a person of ordinary prudence and caution to conscientiously entertain a reasonable belief of the accused’s guilt.” Id. at 734. During the preliminary hearing, the judge must draw inferences favorable to the prosecution from the evidence presented and should not be concerned with sufficiency of the evidence to support a conviction. Id. Finally, the Court also stated that if the evidence is weak at the preliminary hearing, the accused should still be bound over for trial “if the evidence tends to disclose that the offense charged was committed and that the accused committed it. Id.”
In this specific case, the defendant was arrested and charged with attempted aggravated robbery and felony murder. Id. at 732. At the Kansas Supreme Court he argued that there was insufficient evidence presented at his preliminary hearing to establish probable cause that he committed the attempted aggravated robbery and, therefore, that he committed felony murder. Id. at 735. Specifically, the defendant argued that the evidence presented at the preliminary hearing failed to display the elements of attempted aggravated robbery including: (1) the taking element of the crime, (2) the element of force or threat of bodily harm, and (3) that he had the intent to commit, and, thus contended that the robbery did not occur. Id. at 734. The Court noted that that due to the fact that the defendant was charged with attempted aggravated robbery, it was not necessary that the robbery was actually completed. Id. at 735. The Court held that in order to show that an attempt occurred, the State needed only to show that there was an overt act toward the perpetration of the crime. Id. Further, the Court stated that the crime of aggravated robbery was an inherently dangerous felony and would qualify as such under the felony murder statute. Id. The Court found that the defendant’s intent to commit the robbery was reasonably established by the evidence of the plan to rob the deceased. Id. at 738. Further, the Court determined that the defendant was more than a mere bystander due to the fact that he was armed, and was the only member of the group that knew where the deceased lived and gave directions to the location. Id. In addition, the Court noted that the only reason the robbery was not completed was due to the fact that one of the members of the group entered into the home and killed the victim. Id. Thus, the Court concluded that this evidence presented at the preliminary hearing was indeed sufficient to find probable cause that an attempted aggravated robbery had been committed and that the defendant, as an aider and abettor, committed the crime. Id. Therefore, the charge of felony murder was appropriate. Id.